If ever you come across anyone who dismisses the importance of YA books, point them in the direction of Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed’s Yes No Maybe So. This book is a rally cry to readers everywhere, born out of a frustration (and horror) at the current political landscape and crafted into a story of love, resilience and hope for the future as it deftly explores local activism, finding your voice and, of course, “the cross-cultural romance of the century” promised in the synopsis too.
Yes No Maybe So focuses on Jamie Goldberg and Maya Rehman, two childhood friends who are reunited the summer before their senior year of high school when their parents gently nudge them towards spending a few hours a week canvassing for their local state senate candidate. While Jamie is happy enough to volunteer behind the scenes, knocking on doors and speaking to strangers is one step too far. Meanwhile, between her trip being cancelled, her best friend being too busy to hang out and her parents’ announcement that they’re going on a trial separation, Maya’s summer is bad enough already without having to add going door-to-door with an awkward guy she barely knows to the list.
But when Jamie and Maya start their volunteering and go out knocking on doors to ask people for their votes, it turns out it’s not actually so bad. Better yet, they find that spending time together isn’t so awful after all either. Soon their old friendship is rekindled and it’s not long before they’re learning from one another, discussing their religions and the discriminations they each face, and supporting each other through anxieties, family dramas and more besides. As polling day gets closer, so do Maya and Jamie – and it turns out that the thrill of finding a cause worth fighting for is right up there with the excitement of falling in love for the first time too.
“It’s like living with fire in my chest… I don’t know what sparked it, but suddenly everything’s different. Everything feels huge and momentous and terrifyingly real. And I can’t see to push it to the background. I can’t put the fire out. I don’t think I want to put the fire out.”
At the heart of Yes No Maybe So is a love story – a very realistic, cute and wonderful one at that – but more than that, it’s a story of two individuals forging a connection at a time when it feels like there are more divisions amongst people than ever. Both Jamie and Maya are very different people – Jamie is often nervous, awkward and prone to overthinking things, while Maya is a lot more socially confident and self-assured, albeit perhaps a little stuck in her comfort zone. As the story progresses, however, and Maya and Jamie’s relationship alongside it, they draw strength and confidence from each other, from Jamie finding his voice and learning to fight for what he believes in to Maya embracing new social situations and inspiring others to consider different viewpoints.
But while it’s perhaps not surprising that Jamie and Maya’s relationship is such a heartwarming and realistic one, not to mention a relationship you remain completely invested in, the true strength of this book is the way in which it addresses the key issues and topics that so many people are experiencing daily, in America and beyond. Yes No Maybe So exposes the everyday reality of racial discrimination, from the overt Islamophobia that Maya experiences to the less obvious micro-aggressive nature of the anti-Semitism that local trolls have moved off the internet and onto the street as political tensions increase.
Both Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed are New York Times bestselling authors, and their ability to create a warm and engrossing story was never in doubt. The novel isn’t perfect, with one-dimensional secondary characters lacking in storylines and development and a few complications that are wrapped either too quickly or with less consequences than feels realistic, but with this book these authors truly have written something special. Yes No Maybe So offers readers a funny, resonant and engaging story to lose yourself in, yes, but it also serves as a much-need call to action, reminding everyone – but particularly those below voting age – that they are not helpless against the decision-making of politicians they didn’t vote for.
More than anything, this novel stresses that, even though it doesn’t always feel like it, your voice can make a difference, and you should never be afraid to stand up for what you believe in. The fact that it’s a message that comes wrapped in such an uplifting rom-com story is just a welcome bonus.
Yes No Maybe So is published by Simon & Schuster Children’s on 4 February 2020