Dear Rachel Maddow

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
Dear Rachel Maddow Book Poster Image
Teen can't stop confessing to her hero in poignant story.

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Kids say

age 18+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Information on how elections work, political corruption, and voter suppression. A lot of discussion about the importance of all people being involved in school and civic issues. Quotes from presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Garfield.

Positive Messages

It's important to take a stand and fight for what's right, even if it comes at a personal cost. Honesty and loyalty are important in all relationships. Don't quit when life gets difficult. It's OK to ask for and accept help. Sometimes when your family fails you, you have to build your own community and support system.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Brynn is a smart, kind kid who is going through a rough time but still manages to be a good friend and work hard. She models self-confidence as an out gay teen. Brynn's friends are kind and helpful; they push Brynn when she needs it and hold back when she needs to do things on her own. Mr. Grimm, an understanding teacher, sees the best in Brynn, works with her to bring it out. Mr. Maynard is a fair, ethical principal under a lot of pressure from parents, community members. Leigh and Erin take on roles of older brother and sister to Brynn and help her a lot.

Violence

Physical, verbal, emotional abuse: yelling, name-calling, withholding food; and an adult hits a kid in the face twice. A few instances of cyber- and school bullying. Mention of a sexual incident between a girl and some other girls and boys while drunk at a party, but it's not clear whether it was consensual or not -- a drunken encounter or a case of date rape?

Sex

Several mentions of kissing and a few mentions of making out, but nothing graphically described. Dating and crushes figure into the story, so beauty and sexual attractiveness are discussed and described.

Language

Lots of swearing, as creative combinations are part of Brynn's speaking style, including "s--t" and variations, "f--k" and variations, "piss," "hell," "fart," "bitch," "ass," "balls," "slut," "a--hole," "butt," "bastard," "d--k," "damn," "t-t," "douche bag," "God," "motherf----r," "goddammit," and "turd."

Consumerism

A few brands mentioned for scene setting, including Aerie, American Eagle, Red Lobster, and Tylenol.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brynn's brother dies of an Oxycontin overdose, and she reflects back a few times on his drug use and dealing. He is also depicted in flashback smoking a cigarette. One character drinks to the point of getting alcohol poisoning. A girl talks about being drunk at a party in the past and doing things she greatly regrets.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dear Rachel Maddow is about a teen girl, Brynn, who writes to television personality Rachel Maddow for a school project. Brynn then ends up writing Maddow hundreds of emails she never sends, unloading her family problems, her deepest fears, and the social and political high school drama she's going through. Brynn's writing style is casual, funny, and profane, with lots of swearing, including variations on "f--k" and "s--t" and "d--k," "ass," "douche bag," and "bitch." Drug use is mentioned in passing, as her brother died of an overdose. In one scene, a teen drinks to the point of getting alcohol poisoning. Both the drug use and drinking are presented as cautionary tales. The book offers good discussion points around kids who are invisible at school, parent/child relationships, and LGBTQ teens.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written bySparky2426 November 13, 2018

Not very good

There was really no value in reading this it was just a bunch of junk cussing in my opinion.

What's the story?

In DEAR RACHEL MADDOW, Brynn Harper's life is on a steady downward slide. Her father left the family, her brother died of an overdose, her mother married a cruel, abusive man, and her grades have tanked. Furthermore, Brynn's girlfriend broke up with her, and she's banned from working on the school newspaper -- her one passion at school -- until she raises her GPA. When her teacher assigns his students to write to a "celebrity hero," Brynn chooses television news personality Rachel Maddow. After getting a response from Maddow, Brynn continues to write to her but saves the emails to her Drafts folder rather than sending them. The emails serve as a journal of sorts for Brynn. She writes about the turmoil in her life, both at home and at school, and about her grief over losing her brother to an overdose. An opportunity comes up at school for Brynn to run for a special student representative position. While these types of roles always go to the honors students, Brynn feels that the concerns of the average and special-needs students are rarely considered by the more elite kids and the administration. After watching The Rachel Maddow Show so often, Brynn has a good idea of what a representative democracy should be and how all voices should be heard. She takes what she has learned from her television hero and dives into the election at school, upsetting the entrenched power structure. Through it all, she has to figure out what she's going to do with her life and where to find the reserves to keep chugging along when life won't stop throwing her curve balls.

Is it any good?

A teen girl pours her heart out to her celebrity hero, Rachel Maddow, in this poignant and funny story. Dear Rachel Maddow starts out a little slow but picks up as Brynn Harper's personality starts to shine through her hundreds of unsent emails. Brynn's voice is witty and engaging. Her creative swearing is entertaining but will likely turn off readers who don't like profanity. The best part of the story is following along with Brynn and seeing what she faces on a day-to-day basis. She often wants to give up but finds a way to keep battling on. She's the kind of kid easily overlooked at school because she isn't a superstar, plus she has serious trouble at home because her dad left and her mom married a verbally and physically abusive man. She also faces some bullying at school but handles it quite well. In fact, she is a good gay role model for kids in that she owns her sexuality and it isn't an issue for her at all. When Brynn dives into the school election, you can't help but root for her. Her reluctant hero attitude is endearing.

The main downside to the plot is that Brynn has so much stacked against her at one point that the story starts to tip into bleak and overwhelming territory. Most of the secondary characters are one-dimensional, especially her opponent, Adam. But Brynn is such a fun, cool character, she more than makes up for that deficit.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • How do you feel about stories about unlikely underdogs and reluctant heroes, like Brynn in Dear Rachel Maddow? Do you want the underdog to win every time, or are you OK with other outcomes?

  • How do you feel about the social and student-government power structure at your school? Are the same people always calling the shots, or is it spread around among lots of types of students? Do you feel that the needs of regular kids and those who aren't high-achieving get overlooked?

  • Do you have a celebrity hero? Why do you admire that person? Also, what are the downsides of hero worship?

  • Do you have anyone you can talk to about your feelings or about things that have happened to you? Are you a person who buries feelings or do you always let everything out?

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