ARC review: The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert

I was sent this book as an advance listening copy via libro.fm for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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From Stonewall Award-winning author Brandy Colbert comes an all-in-one-day love story perfect for fans of The Sun is Also A Star.

Marva Sheridan was born ready for this day. She’s always been driven to make a difference in the world, and what better way than to vote in her first election?
Duke Crenshaw is do done with this election. He just wants to get voting over with so he can prepare for his band’s first paying gig tonight.

Only problem? Duke can’t vote.

When Marva sees Duke turned away from their polling place, she takes it upon herself to make sure his vote is counted. She hasn’t spent months doorbelling and registering voters just to see someone denied their right. And that’s how their whirlwind day begins, rushing from precinct to precinct, cutting school, waiting in endless lines, turned away time and again, trying to do one simple thing: vote. They may have started out as strangers, but as Duke and Marva team up to beat a rigged system (and find Marva’s missing cat), it’s clear that there’s more to their connection than a shared mission for democracy.

Romantic and triumphant, The Voting Booth is proof that you can’t sit around waiting for the world to change?but some things are just meant to be.

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★★.5

This was a quick and easy to read novel that takes place within one single (and important) day, election day in the US.

As someone who’s not from the US I had to first let go of some personal feelings I have about being a non-US person reading about US politics in a fictional setting, knowing full well that so rarely US people read or care about real life politics outside their own country. Once I was able to let that go in a way that I was sure it wouldn’t affect my thoughts about the book, I was finally able to enjoy this novel, which highlights some of the many ways in which the US voting system is corrupt and anti-democratic, especially targeting those minorities that are most affected by the results of any given election.

I wasn’t new to some of the issues here because I have read about voter suppression on twitter threads before, and yet everything seemed so surreal and I completely felt the anger that the people trying vote must feel, knowing full well how much hangs in the balance if not only their own vote but also the votes of so many people like them won’t be counted because of a seriously fucked up system.

This anger is well portrayed in the character of Marva, a Black teen voting for the first time and helping Duke, a biracial Black/white teen also trying to vote for the first time. I really liked the different ways both teens cared about politics and how Marva’s activism reminded Duke of his late brother, and how they could relate to each other in ways they often can’t with other people in their lives.

By far the best about this novel is all the social and systemic issues it highlights, not just related to the election but also generally about being a Black or biracial person in the US, and the ways it points out to the divide in the mentality between people who theoretically have the right ideas but aren’t actually directly affected by a disastrous election result and people whose life could literally depend on it.

I said these are “the best” parts but not in a pleasant way by any means, because if you have any sense of social justice this book will make you angry, whether you’re from the US or not. But it so, so important for especially the target audience (US teens) to see this reality, especially if you’re from a more privileged background, and see that there are ways to do something about it and to help your community, whether it’s driving people to the polls or distributing water and food to people who have been in the line literally all day, and see that Marva and Duke’s reality are the realities of so many people.

This book wasn’t perfect. Seen as a purely YA contemporary, it didn’t manage to sell me on the one-day romance the way that The Sun is Also a Star did, and I didn’t love the overly info-dumpy way in which we got to know the characters, how every single thing they saw sparked an excursus about some random anecdote in their life that marginally related to it. It didn’t help that I also had issues with the audiobook, the narrators weren’t my favorites but also from a technical point of view it was kind of not the best audiobook I’ve listened to (the two narrators had very different volumes and I had to adjust it myself every time they switched, which was very annoying).

But the importance of the political and social issues here and the fact that it was about a Black and a biracial teen fully owning their political agency and letting go of people who ultimately don’t care about how politics affect them largely overcompensated for any mild issue I had with the book and I highly recommend it whether you live in the US or not.

TWs: racism, grief over the loss of a loved one in the past, two scenes in which two Black or biracial people get pulled over by cops

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