Book Review: Dinner Debates
Reviewed by Samantha Hui
Funny, sentimental, and infinitely charming
Dinner Debates is a beautiful coming of age story about one kid’s journey of finding himself and fighting for what’s right. The story is filled with 90s nostalgia and accurately portrays the naivety yet cleverness of a twelve-year-old boy.
Though the topics at hand are deeply political, the story focuses mostly on family dynamics and how adult disagreements can affect children. This middle grade novel is entertaining for youth and adults—great for all those family book clubs out there.
“So you can see why I was so confused. To me, politics was like a glass prism, because no one saw it from the same angle.”
Marcus Hawthorne is a twelve-year-old kid caught in the middle of his parents daily political showdowns. Dad is a Republican, Mom is a Democrat, and both sides are only trying to fight for what they believe is right.
When the company that Dad works for, Reynolds Company, is set to build up the Mega More store in the small town of Newburg, Mom takes issue with the historical ramifications of building the store near Squabble Creek. The placement of the store would force Squabble Creek to be redirected, force many animals from their homes, and possibly tamper with the historic cemetery that sits nearby. There is major trouble in Hawthornia.
“Because in this little country of Hawthornia, where there is an ongoing struggle for power in its two-party system, it was the common folk like me who paid the price as Mom and Dad clashed over nightly battles about which system worked best.”
Though so much of the book details the contention between Marcus’s parents, the story always proves that Mom and Dad love each other dearly in spite of their political differences. The book is able to balance out the serious yet playful arguments between the parents as well as their tenderness for each other. Much of the conflict and intrigue of the book comes from Marcus’s understanding and confusion surrounding his parents’ disagreements. Because Marcus has always been stuck in the middle of his parents’ dinner debates, he never had a chance to make his own decisions or form his own opinions.
“Dad liked to say that I could worry the shine off the moon. He’d told me to leave the worrying to hm, that I was twelve and that I’d have plenty of things to worry about when I got older. So I worried about that.”
There is so much about this book to like. I love how headstrong Marcus’s mother is; she will fight for her political and moral beliefs, but she doesn’t let anyone even dare question her love and loyalty to her family. Marcus’s blooming friendship with his neighbor, Cullen, is also delightful to read. Cullen is so sure of himself and fights hard for what he believes too. Though Marcus begins his story unsure of himself and caught at a crossroads, the confidence exuded by his mother and his best friend becomes infectious and encourages Marcus to find his own voice.
“Mom stood before the council, outnumbered, undermanned, and thoroughly unafraid. I swallowed hard, took a breath, and craned my neck for a better view because I knew, win or lose, things were about to get interesting.”
Marcus is stuck in the middle of a complex conversation in the same way many of us are caught in a political stalemate. The character of Marcus shows that taking careful consideration of your beliefs is important. The enthusiasm of the characters is infectious, and the town of Newburg is charming. I highly recommend this book to young readers who feel swept up in the complexities of the current political conversations.
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction / Political
Print Length: 210 pages
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