The President’s Daughter by Ellen Emerson White
Publication Date: January 1, 1984
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: politics, moms/daughters, campaigns
Format read: Borrowed from library.
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Meg Powers is about to have her life turned upside down. As if life with her parents and her two brothers isn’t challenging enough, her senator mom has decided to step her career up to the next level and run for President of the United States.
Mom and daughter relationships are complicated enough. Why not mix in some politics, too?
Meg Powers is not your typical main character. She’s snarky, sarcastic, and has pretty snide thoughts about her family. In fact, she’s kind of moody and bratty. I’ll let you in on a little secret… I feel like she was super close to how I was as a teenager. (Just ask my mom.) Except Meg thought before she spoke on more occasions than I did.
When her mom first discusses running for president in the early part of the book, Meg’s not exactly her biggest cheerleader, and even during the campaign she refuses to accept what’s happening and still doesn’t think her mom is going to win. I kind of love that about her. As senator, Meg’s mom is pretty MIA in the life of her dad and her brothers, and as President, well, Meg can only imagine how available her mom will be then.
My library copy of The President’s Daughter was an updated version of the 1984 book. Cell phones, blogs, and the internet make appearances but not as much as they might during a present day campaign. I almost wish I could have gotten my hands on the original version. None of those details are detrimental to the plot or distracting in the least, but the update just feels unnecessary.
The book spans a good amount of time from the campaign through the first few months of Mrs. Powers’ time in office. It has the tendency to gloss over a few key moments, but White still manages to make the scenes so authentic – I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of research she did on the book because I believed every word she said. My mind constantly conjured up images of Chelsea Clinton and even Meghan McCain – the challenge of being in the spotlight, the Secret Service going on dates with you, and having tp be extra careful about who to trust.
I loved the little moments shared between the family (even the tense ones). They have such a playful and laid-back dynamic. Meg is actually quite maternal when she has to be and I really liked her relationship with her younger brothers. It was protective yet detached, like they were still walking this fine line between being overly affectionate or totally frustrated with one another.
As a kid I was always sort of enamored with the Presidents of the United States. I collected trading cards, read all the books, and was practically overcome with love for Washington, D.C. when I first visited in fifth grade. It was exhilarating to read about Meg’s experiences and observations during this journey, and I was surprised how many emotional moments were nestled inside of the book. It’s sort of magical watching your parent become the leader of America.
It’s especially surreal, almost thirty years after this novel has been published, that we still haven’t had a woman in office. This understanding of what Mrs. Powers’ success really means for America is very subtle, coming up in whispers, thanks to the writing of White. She allows the true meaning of these historical and personal moments to feel its way through without any pushing. The experience of The President’s Daughter is only enhanced by the author’s trust in her readers, and her ability to take a unique premise and bring it down to earth.