Your Own Worst Enemy by Gordon Jack Book Review

I’ve been reading loads of fantasy and sci-fi lately, which is fine, but I tend to connect to contemporary novels surprisingly quite often. Despite that, there have been numerous contemporaries I’ve been very hesitant about. I guess I maybe expect another typical romance sprinkled with overstretched fears. But this one was a treat I needed, especially now that the countdown of 365 days before the 2020 election has arrived and as the Republicans try to find ways to defend their despicable criminal of a leader, the Democrats are fighting themselves over the perfect candidate. If you’re young like me and care about the quests adults make to achieve power over us, this is the book for you.

At Lincoln High School, Stacey Wynn has been the student president for a fair amount of time, but that’s primarily because she hasn’t had contenders. With the help of her best friend Brian, a guy who used to be a lot chubbier and was bullied by his mohawk-sporting little brother Kyle as a result, she feels there’s nothing that could get in her way. Until one day, about three weeks before elections for all sorts of student bodies, she sees two more names on the ballot sheet: Julia Romero and Tony Guo. Julia is a new girl who came from Canada and who everyone is sure is a Latina, and Tony is a rather infamous rich-kid junkie. Fear about the sudden competition comes with the realization that despite her previous victories, she’s really not the most popular kid on the block. She realizes some students might see her as that hall monitor who always hopes kids will do more work, and will police kids to do the right thing, despite the fact doing the right thing should be proper anyway. Then before Stacey, Julia and Tony know it, a political circus ensues, with so much more than just the presidency on the line.

What I love the most about Your Own Worst Enemy is how all three candidates have their own personal reasons to be president, and we connect with all of them. Tony a little less so, but only because he says the statement, “I’ll make milk great again,” and he gets wondrous applause in the cafeteria. That statement wasn’t necessary. I already got the idea of what sort of main base would see Tony as the best candidate. That’s the biggest flaw in this book.

But I’m serious when I say Gordon Jack uses equity to put us in the shoes of every candidate, whereas in serious elections, no one takes the complete side of two, let alone three candidates who are so different. But here we sort of do. 

Stacey feels being president allows her to have a say in the school’s environmental footprint and help students understand its importance, but also, she’s been president for a period of time and has enjoyed that power. To the point where she feels without it, she’s nothing, and having to ask permission to get things done would be miserable. Julia at first runs for president only to escape her strict and overbearing Aunt Gloria, but when she’s mistaken as a Latina when she starts receiving attention, she ends up becoming an advocate for people who because of their race feel too discriminated against and scared to run for positions of power, and she feels she can make a difference for all of them. Tony is the candidate all of us have a small guilty pleasure for as the underdog (we would have a lot more if it weren’t for his great again line). His main practice is bringing back chocolate milk to the cafeteria menu after the school took it off, platforming on how strong the sweet beverage and its calcium made him, as well as a What’s-Next way of talking; are they going to take away pop tarts and pizza and treats at our prom? Tony also has at-home problems; smug wealthy parents who are never around to be with him and just leave him to drugs and partying. 

And let’s face it: When high-school students are swamped with homework and they don’t really have to pay bills, there’s very few things they will really care about. One of them is the affecting of their food options. Second place would probably go to the affecting of extra curricular activities. I remember in Grade 9, there was actually a protest about the lack of them at my school for half a day. Then again, you could also promise to shorten class time in your nomination speech.

Basically, there are loads of ways to mess around with a high school election, and Gordon Jack sees what sticks as he splatters us with chaos. There’s an independent school reporter we sympathize with when we learn he was kicked off the school newspaper. Those kinds of people at first glance we root for, just because an I-told-you-so feeling if he ranks up higher is an exciting thing to anticipate. As we read his articles, we appreciate his ability to make a story fast-paced but we sense some sliminess, and what ends up happening at the end of this side-plot truly shocked me. I imagine loads of other readers will be baffled too. Brian is a sweetheart, someone who never wants to upset anyone but tries to help everyone out when he’s needed. Even Kyle, the most unlikable character, gives us interest when we find out what an out-of-the-box conniver he is, and how his past shaped him into the goth rule-breaker he is now. But it also takes its time to indulge us with the problems outside of life these junior politicians face. 

In the Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron comedy from earlier this year, Long Shot, Theron’s character, who’s running to be president of the United States, talked about how in high school, she campaigned on an environmental standpoint to be president, and the person who won by a landslide was a competitor who promised a second prom night. If we stop and look around, there are elections all over the place, and even if they’re not given the spotlight by the press, they mean a lot to a group of people. Tender-hearted, grounded in reality, surprisingly hilarious, thought-provoking, and even quite sad, this politically satirical book about one of these high-school elections brilliantly mirrors the modern ways people operate to achieve power. It will also get lots of kids, preteens and adolescents to find politics cool for a change.

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