Extreme American Makeover
Review Posted October 11, 2008.
Dutton Children's Books, 2007. 278 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008: #4, Contemporary Teen Fiction
Sameera Righton's father is running for President of the United States. She's leaving her international high school in Brussels to join him for the last several months of his campaign.
Right from the start, his campaign staff are planning changes for Sameera, starting with her name. Her family has always called her Sparrow, but the campaign manager thinks that "Sammy" sounds "more American." Sparrow was born in Pakistan and adopted when she was three years old, so she doesn't look like her parents. Are the American people ready for that?
What's more, Sparrow, who's long prided herself in her thoughtful blog posts for a small circle of friends, is now asked to let a supposedly media-savvy campaigner write her official blog. "SammySez" ends up sounding like a mindless shopping-crazed TV addict.
Sparrow tries to keep a semblance of normal life during the crazy campaign months. She does her usual summer trip to her grandparents' farm, and tries to take some of the load off of her recuperating grandma. At least until the press finds her. I love her strategy for sneaking out of their Washington, DC, hotel in a salwar kameez. I think it would work!
This book is fun reading, and perfect for this summer before the election. Mitali Perkins has posted a real blog for Sparrow at http://www.sparrowblog.com/. On it, she keeps track of news stories about the children of the real-life presidential hopefuls. I wonder how much their experiences are similar to Sparrow's.
I do like the way Mitali Perkins weaves in some tasteful discussions about faith into her work. I met her nine years ago at a writer's conference in Paris, and she mentioned that her faith was an important part of her writing. Her characters express that faith is important, but don't claim to have all the answers.
I also liked the international flavor to the book. Sameera grew up overseas, as her parents were an ambassador to NATO and a human-rights activist. Having met Mitali in Paris when she was living in Asia, I wasn't surprised to read that she was born in India and lived in many different countries growing up. The part of the book dealing with international relations definitely had an authentic ring.
This is a good book about a teenager thrust into the limelight, and it also gets the reader thinking. What makes a person American?