Recommendations From Under the Radar: Ellen Emerson White's The President's Daughter series
It wasn't easy picking what books to include this week; there wasn't enough time to do them all, and in all honesty I prefer EEW's books for older readers (the teen and adult stuff.) So I focused on three "sets", as it were; the President's Daughter series, since the most recent volume is being published this year; the Road Home and related books, because it is one of my three favorite EEW books; and Friends for Life / Life Without Friends, because LWF is another one of my three favorite EEW books and because, well, you'll see when you read the post.
The President's Daughter series is made up of four books:
The President’s Daughter (1984)
White House Autumn (1985)
Long Live the Queen (1989)
Long May She Reign (2007)*
Before I go book by book, let me say: Meg Powers (the President's daughter) is funny. In typical, trademark Ellen Emerson White style most of the humor is sarcastic or an observation. It's a connection that is made that the reader gets and laughs in recognition. It's not that the books are funny; it's Meg who is funny. And not in a "I'm a comedian" way; it's very much in the manner of Melinda from Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Tho, actually, I seem to remember Meg's brothers and parents commenting on her being a comedian...
Anyway, as you read the below plot descriptions (presidents, shootings, and kidnappings, oh my!) remember: it's all told thru the point of view of someone who is smart and who uses humor as a coping mechanism. So you'll find yourself laughing out loud.
The President's Daughter
Meg Powers is 16. And she's pretty happy with her life in Massachusetts. Great best friend, good friends, gets along with her family. She's pretty average, fairly typical. OK, so Mom is a Senator, but really? Who cares about that in the real world?
The press may not care about a Senator's daughter. They do care about the daughter of a woman running for President ... especially when she is a serious contender. Meg's mom has not only announced she is running for President... it looks like she's going to win.
Meg is a great character; very real, and with a wicked sense of humor. The relationship with her mother is extremely complex; Meg loves her mother. Meg admires her mother. But it is not an easy relationship. Meg's mother has made choices; choices to go into politics, to be a Senator, to run for President. To have children. Her mother's juggling act is not easy, especially when it comes down to what is best for the country versus what is best for her children.
What is also great about Meg's mother is that she is full of shades of gray and insecurities. She is an accomplished woman (hello, President of the United States.) She isn't perfect; and EEW never "fixes" this. A lesser author would have turned the mother into a monster because she doesn't fit the "traditional" role of what a mother "should" be (gasp, Meg's mom doesn't make cookies! Meg's mom isn't Carol Brady perfect! Meg's mom values her career and her children!). A lesser author would have created Quick Fixes with everyone happy in the end.
The issues between Meg and her mother continue to be explored in each book of the series. Rarely have I read such a nuanced, realistic, understanding and forgiving mother/daughter relationship. Don't get me wrong; it's far from perfect and sometimes I want to take Meg's mother and throw her out the window (especially in book 3.) But more on that below.
I'm not giving anything away by saying, Meg's mom wins the election. (The series is called "the President's daughter", not "the -person-who-ran-and-lost-and-is-still-a-Senator's daughter.") (If you think that is funny, then, you will find Meg funny. That was my attempt at Meg humor.)
Another good thing about this book is the look at politics; and, as a quick look at the author's website and blog will show, the author herself enjoys politics and knows what she is talking about. (One of my pet peeves is authors who believe that since they write fiction, the "make it up" rule applies to everything: medicine, law, politics, etc.)
White House Autumn
Meg seems to have finally made a new life for herself in DC; new school, new friends, adjusting to the Press. Then Mom, aka the President, gets shot.
Those resentments that were bubbling away in The President's Daughter boil over. Meg and her younger brothers are worried about their mother; but they also have to suffer, because with an assassination attempt, security increases as does the attentions of the press.
These are situations under which Meg has no control; it's a harsh reality of her life, and of anyone's life, that sometimes our choices are narrower than we'd like.
Also good: the bits about the press part, because EEW really gets the pitfalls and problems of the press; the image that is presented by politicians and celebrities, the relationship between the press and those they report on. It's especially interesting to see the impact on those who have not chosen to be in the spotlight -- the "children of".
Long Live the Queen
It's the end of Meg's senior year, and as she walks out of school bullets start flying, her secret service agents are shouting, she's getting pulled into a van. She's been kidnapped. The kidnapper is brutal and sadistic. It's going to take every bit of strength and determination that Meg has to survive.
This is the book where things get -- serious. Books 1 and 2 are much more about Meg "reacting" to situations; this, tho, is all about Meg. And Meg proves herself, to the reader, to the kidnappers, to the world, over and over again. (You can even tell from the titles the shift of focus from the books being about a "daughter of" to the books being about Meg; the first two titles are really about Meg's mother, while the last two titles are about Meg herself.) I mentioned yesterday two of my three favorite EEW books; this used to be a top three (until I read Book 4!)
The kidnapping -- it's tough. And Meg's escape from the kidnappers is made of awesome. The book also includes Meg's immediate post-kidnapping healing and attempts to re-connect with family and friends.
Even though Meg does not choose the spotlight, now, for the first time, it's something she has done that gets her into the media. But, of course, all she did was get kidnapped and survive. Survival includes having had teeth ripped out (because it turns out they had tracking chips in them -- look at the date of the book to see how ahead of the curve EEW was with that!); and taking a rock to her hand in an attempt to free herself from handcuffs. (See, she needs to get her hand small enough to slip thru the handcuffs, so she figures if she breaks the bones she can do it.)
EEW does two things that are rather unexpected. First, the President refuses to negotiate. So Meg's life really is at risk. And the thing is; Meg gets why her mother does that. Meg can even respect that. But, it doesn't help; it doesn't help Meg, it doesn't help their relationship. Second, the kidnapper isn't caught; neither is it discovered just who, or what, is beyond the kidnapping. (Aside from making this scary-real, it also stops the book from being dated.)
Despite the drama of this -- and the action -- LLTQ is also very internal, as Meg struggles to survive first her kidnapping, then her escape, and, finally, a return to "normal life."
While LLTQ ends on an upbeat note, what has happened to Meg is just too drastic to be summed up neatly in one book. Hence, the latest book, years in the making: Long May She Reign, which is about Meg's attempts to live a "normal" life by going to college.
Since book 4 is so new that it's not out until October, it hardly qualifies as "under the radar," which is why I'll be reviewing it next week. (And one of the reasons I'm reviewing the earlier books, and EEW in general, is because I do not want LMSR to be "under the Radar.")
One thing to note: LMSR stands on its own. You don't have to read these other three books (and, I proved it by giving it to my mother without letting her know about the other books in the series; and she had no problems following the action.) It is, also, a book that is a crossover title; with as much appeal for those over 18 as for those under 18. (And I keep wanting to say more about LMSR and then cutting it because otherwise this would be the longest post ever and I'd have nothing to say next week!)
As I was wrapping this up, I realized all the things I had not mentioned: like, for example, Preston, who is one of the coolest people in a book. He starts as Mom's press secretary and becomes very close to the family. While there are many crying moments in book 3, one of the best is when Preston tells Meg he taped her favorite TV show for her while she was missing. (I know I have fans reading -- who remembers the show?)
And Meg's brothers! She has two brothers, Stephen and Neal, who are spot on; one moment pests, one moment adorable. (Another eye-filling-up moment is when Meg is thankful that it was she, not one of her brothers, who was kidnapped.)
And, how EEW has her main character age and mature so that the books age; instead of shifting from J to YA, as some series do, this series shifts from YA to adult.
Final note: according to the author's website, the first three books will be reprinted Fall 2008! Yes! So if you cannot get your hands on the books now, make a reminder to yourself to get them next Fall. And in the meanwhile: NO, you don't have to read the first 3 books to read the last. But, having read the last, you'll want to read the first 3.
Other Under the Radar Recommendations:
Big A, little a: The Tide Knot by Helen Dunmore
Jen Robinson's Book Page: The Zilpha Keatley Snyder Green Sky trilogy
Bildungsroman: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion Part 1
Chasing Ray: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion Part 2
lectitans: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion Part 3
Finding Wonderland: The House on Hound Hill by Maggie Prince
Miss Erin: The Reb & Redcoats and Enemy Brothers, both by Constance Savery
Bookshelves of Doom: Harry Sue by Sue Stauffacher
Interactive Reader: Shake Down the Stars by Frances Donnelly
Chicken Spaghetti: Pooja Makhijani guest blogs with Romina's Rangoli by Malathi Michelle Iyengar
Writing & Ruminating: Dear Mr. Rosenwald by Carole Weatherford
Shaken & Stirred: Elizabeth Knox and the Dreamhunter Duet
and Semicolon has been visiting some "under the RADAR" titles.