YA has seen its share of books about children of politicians, the behind-the-scenes lives of celebrities, and romances between scions of feuding families, but none have put them together in one smart, sophisticated political novel for teens like Jenn Marie Thorne’s YA debut, The Wrong Side of Right. Thorne takes a story that could’ve veered into cutesy with a less deft hand and turns it into an intelligent, thoughtful, fun, romantic novel fit for anyone who ever wanted a West Wing: The Next Generation.
Kate Quinn has just learned the startling fact that the father she never knew is the Republican candidate for president. In the wake of her mother’s fairly recent death, there’s little to keep Kate from joining her father on the campaign trail and getting to know her new family, including adorable younger siblings and a new stepmother, Meg. Although Kate is a living symbol of her husband’s infidelity, Meg is one of the brightest spots of Kate’s new life, with Thorne eschewing the typical “evil stepmother” stereotype to make her a lovely maternal figure bent on helping Kate settle into the family. Add in a good-looking and troublesome love interest in the form of president’s son Andy, and there’s no shortage of adventure in her new world.
But amid the dynamics of family and friendships, Thorne also captures the darkness, intensity, and secrecy that mark life in the public eye, especially when you’ve started it under cover of a scandal. Kate admirably and consistently stands up for both herself and the mother whose history she’s only just learned, but from campaign managers to the family she never knew, she’s still got plenty of curveballs coming her way, and a whole lot to learn about what’s in her future.
Here to tell us where she learned all about how to piece Kate’s world together is the author herself, Jenn Marie Thorne.
I drew from a number of sources in researching The Wrong Side of Right, but here are four that unexpectedly wound up inspiring some of the book’s key details.
Game Change…and not the Sarah Palin part
The first section of 2010’s incredibly dishy nonfiction book about the 2008 election deals with Democratic primary frontrunners Obama, Clinton, and Edwards. The authors paint brilliantly vivid portraits of the candidates, their families, and key staff members—and the book’s account of Senator John Edwards’s affair, his oddly lackluster attempt to cover it up, and the ensuing fallout is particularly riveting. I found myself turning pages well into the night, muttering to myself, “If he’d just come clean to his staff here…if he’d just made a public statement or spun it this way,” and those alternative political strategies made their way into my own book as part of the Cooper campaign’s damage control efforts. From Game Change, I also got a great sense of the machinery of politics—the staff structure, the powerbrokers, the back-door deals, the continual spin that keeps the campaign’s message relevant and effective. The book does a great job of making the reader into an armchair political strategist.
Dirty, Sexy Politics
Meghan McCain’s 2010 memoir tells the same story as Game Change, but from the youthful, irreverent perspective of a candidate’s daughter. I picked this up looking for some extra intel on what’s expected from the child of a politician angling for the highest office in America—as well as the viewpoint of a young, passionate Republican—and it didn’t disappoint. What I didn’t expect was how refreshingly filter-free McCain seems to be. She’s bluntly honest about how she butted heads with campaign staff, how she was punished and marginalized for bringing scandal to the campaign via a risqué GQ article, and how rife political campaigns are with late-night drinking, flirting, and “crazy-sex,” even between staff members and the press corps. That’s only hinted at in The Wrong Side of Right, but it would make a fabulous NA romance, so somebody get on it! (Blogger’s note: Thankfully, someone did.)
“First Cameraman” Arun Chaudhary
I first met Arun back in 2005, working on a short film. While my career zigged into writing novels, Arun’s zagged into the world of politics when he was recruited into the 2008 Obama campaign. As New Media Road Director, Arun had near-constant access to Obama and his inner circle, always with a camera in hand to document the day-to-day workings of a campaign. So key was he to the campaign’s success that he stepped into a role in the West Wing as the White House’s very first official videographer. Long before The Wrong Side of Right was a glimmer in my eye, I had a blast watching Arun’s videos and checking out his Facebook posts from the campaign trail. His work really showed me the human side behind these larger-than-life figures, and wound up influencing more than one scene in my novel. (Here’s one in particular that I thought of while writing the book’s Kansas scenes.)
The “Straight Talk Express”
So there I was, googling “political candidate bus layout,” thinking I’d find cushy seats, maybe a banquette or two. And then I found this. That. Bus. Was. Crazy! It had a kitchen. And a mini-studio where they tape TV appearances! And they made a Cribs parody video out of it—as part of a presidential campaign. (You can just picture the strategy meeting, right? “Sir, I think this will help draw the youth vote away from Obama.” “Cribs?” “It’s a show. On MTV.” “Oh, all right, go for it then.”) I knew as soon as I saw John McCain’s Straight Talk Express that whatever fanciful campaign details I invented couldn’t possibly compete with reality.