As I write this, Facebook has just reminded me of a post I made exactly a decade ago: “I’m living my dream!” I’d just moved to D.C., in large part thanks to my love of The West Wing, and I’d wanted to experience the thrill of a campaign (as well as, of course, saving democracy). And, in October 2012, I was doing just that — spending all the free time I had making calls and knocking on doors for Obama’s re-election.
I’m not sure that, all these years later, thrilling is exactly the word I’d use, but it was certainly fun amidst the hard and important work, and I learned a lot. Many of the characters in the YA novels on this list would say the same of their experiences in politics, whether they were school-based, local, or national. Others would certainly not use the word fun. And, unlike the characters in The West Wing, they all have families and schools to navigate as well as politics, and things can get messy fast. But if, like me, you’re forever wishing for another season, or 10, of arguably the world’s best TV show, then let these YA novels fill some of that gaping void.
Golden Boys by Phil Stamper
A Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for a new generation, this 2021 novel tells the story of four queer boys, and of their friendship, over one summer. They may come from a small town, but they’ve got big dreams — and one of them, Sal, has snagged an internship in a Senator’s office in Washington, D.C.
Most Likely by Sarah Watson
You may have missed this one, which came out on March 10, 2020, but it’s not too late to pick up another story of friendship — this time between four girls. Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha have known each other all their lives. They’re now in their senior year of high school and nervous about facing the future apart. Someday, one of them will be U.S. President — but which one?
Running by Natalia Sylvester
Having your dad run for president is hard enough, but what about when you don’t agree with what he stands for? This is a great read exploring the life of Cuban American Mariana Ruiz as she navigates the challenges of life as a candidate’s daughter.
The (Un)popular Vote by Jasper Sanchez
If you like an overt reference — or several — to The West Wing and what it’s taught its fans about political activism, then look no further than this one! Mark has promised his dad that he’ll keep a low profile, because his dad is running for congress, and he pretends not to understand that Mark is trans. But then Mark runs for student body president, falls in love, and has to fend off a nosy reporter. Things get complicated fast…
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert
A great one for fans of books like The Sun Is Also a Star where two teenagers fall in love in a day, The Voting Booth takes place on Election Day. Marva is volunteering to get out the vote, and she’s not going to stand for Duke getting turned away from the polling place. Throw in a missing Instagram-famous cat, and you’ve got yourself an adventure.
The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne
I really enjoyed this 2015 novel about Kate, who finds herself without a parent after her mum dies, only to discover that the father she never knew is, in fact, very much alive and well — and running for president. She’s thrown into a new family as well as into the midst of a high-profile political campaign, and, just to make things more complicated, she meets a boy…
Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed
Even though I had no such luck, every Josh and Donna shipper knows that political campaigning can be a great place to find love, and this book further proves it. Jamie, who loves to be behind the scenes, and Maya, who’s not even sure she wants to be there at all, end up going door-to-door together for the state senate race, and they get to know each other in the process.
You Say It First by Katie Cotugno
Meg is leaving for Cornell in the fall, but before that, she’s spending her summer phonebanking and registering voters. One of the many calls she makes connects her with Colby, who’s not into politics or being preached to by a girl with a privileged life. But somehow, despite or because of their very different worldviews, over a series of phonecalls, they end up becoming friends…and maybe more.