Book Review: Yes, No, Maybe So

In the midst of a post-Brexit Britain and an ongoing Trump administration, I have to admit that it is hard not to question how such beacons of hostility even get a foot through the door – never mind a majority. To save the collective (and address the realities of our society), we must stop prioritising the needs of the individual. This is something that comes through loud and clear in Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed’s newest collaboration. Set in the southern state of Georgia, Yes, No, Maybe So convincingly navigates the election campaign of a local state Democrat through the efforts of two plucky teenagers. Whilst also learning about one another’s religious backgrounds, protagonists Jamie and Maya, illustrate how – no matter your age – your voice still matters. Now more than ever!

Jamie is a jewish boy that is both anxious and awkward in equal parts. Everything he touches falls apart and everything he says seems to end in disaster. Of course, his hopes of becoming a politician seem to be far from his grasp – that is until he reconnects with his old friend Maya. Maya is a self-assured muslim girl who is juggling her parents’ separation in the midst of Ramadan – a time when they are supposed to be more together. Instead, her parents become increasingly busy with work commitments and are unable to give her lifts to places. In order to win her parents over about the idea of getting her a car, Maya begrudgingly joins Jamie in canvassing for the democrat candidate Rossum. Though Maya initially thinks that canvassing is a means to an end, she starts to enjoy spending time with Jamie and the feeling of making a difference. Knocking on doors and handing out flyers, it isn’t long until they come into direct contact with islamophobic residents and anti-semitic activism from Rossum’s rivals. When a bill banning the hijab is announced, however, that everything comes to a head. Maya and Jamie must do everything they can to stop it getting through – even if they can’t vote.

This book has very noble intentions. Not only does it serve to inspire young people to take an interest in politics but it attempts to shed some light on the values and traditions that form other cultures. I, personally, found the insight into the rituals that surround bat mitzvahs and Ramadan incredibly interesting and I liked how these religious occasions also gave way to some beautiful character progressions. That’s not to minimise these events and claim their only significance is to contribute to character (not at all!) but to acknowledge that these are sacred celebrations and, as such, they would realistically impact the decisions of those practising their faith. Whilst the romantic ending of this title felt far-fetched, I empathised entirely with the gut-wrenching disappointment that arose with an undesirable political outcome. The sad truth is that change is slow and I believe that this was realistically depicted. This title clearly demonstrates that the fight against islamophobia, anti-semitism and any other form of discrimination is always worth fighting for, whether it takes 10 or 20 elections…and we do need the help of young people to achieve this.

Buy this title here

I will not profess to speak on behalf of anyone else on the authenticity of this book’s depiction of Islam or Judaism. I will, however, state that the whole ending felt a little whitewashed. Whilst I think it is exceptionally important to release discourse on different religions and cultures, I think that authors need to be careful of inadvertently doing a disservice to those they wish to empower. It is always better to tackle one issue thoroughly than too many superficially. Sadly, the fact of the matter is, this title was simply not intersectional enough. Sure, it had a few minority characters but they felt more for show than for substance. Maya at the beginning of the title has such strong religious values and then by the end she is willing to rebel against them for a cute boy she met a few weeks ago? I mean, c’mon! Similarly, though Jamie needs some brave moments in order to become the man he hopes to be, the whole process (to me) stank of white saviourism – not to mention sexist.

Consequently, this title’s downfall was its inability to create consistent characters. It cemented itself too heavily around the classic YA tropes of years gone by. In spite of this, I do believe that Covid-19 and this title alike have highlighted that far more can be done when we’re united than when we are divided…

…so, let’s fight for change together.

2.5/5

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