For those of us who remember the pre-Harry Potter world of young adult fiction, Kari Jones’s So Much for Democracy is a trip down memory lane. That is to say, it’s a perfectly servicable book that isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off.
The plot is pretty straightforward. Astrid and her family are Candaian, and living in Ghana in the late 70s/early 80s so that her father can help organize elections. While she is going about the daily business of school and playing with friends, in the background (and eventually in the foreground) we hear about the jailing and rise of the dictator J.J. Rawlings.
As you’d expect from that kind of set-up, this book has all the marks of standard young-adult fiction. Children becoming adults and learning how to cope with events that are beyond their control (and yet still ahve to be coped with); navigating the difficult transition from being concerned with the affiars of children as children to being concerned with the affairs of adults as adults; and eventually being recognized as an adult by others who are already there.None of these are unique to the genre. What this book brings to the table is a unique setting (apparently inspired by the author’s own childhood). I’m sure there are other YA books set in Ghana, but none jump immediately to mind. This unique setting means that there are some boxes from which the book cannot escape. For example, Rawlings (spoiler alert) escapes prison and establishes a dictatorship. However bad this may be, there is nothing that can be done about it by the main character. In this case, Voldemort wins.
That is of course an important lesson for children, and So Much for Democracy does a good job of exploring it. Astrid learns to live with things she can’t control–even when these things are bad for her, her friends, and society as a whole. It probably goes without saying that Christians have something to say about this. We do not control what happens in the world, though we worship the God who does. The good news is that even when dictators rise to power and bad people do bad things, God has promised that these events are intended for His Glory and our Good.
So, if you’re looking for a perfectly servicable young adult book in the older style, look no farther than So Much for Democracy.