Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White. Feiwel and Friends, 2007. Currently Available.
Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction
Face Value: I continue to enjoy these covers, inspired by famous paintings. It gets at the idea of a girl on display, for the whole world to see and comment on, without actually knowing what’s going on behind the face value, the big picture. And I love the idea of Meg as the Mona Lisa. Something about that, I think she would find rather amusing.
Does it Break the Slate? My goodness yes. Typically, I’m not interested in reviewing sequels to books I’ve already reviewed earlier versions on this blog, unless I feel really sure that I have something different to say. But when I finished Long May She Reign (the sequel to The President’s Daughter, White House Autumn, and Long Live the Queen), I felt like I definitely had more to add about the incredible Meg Powers and her amazing family. We firmly declared Meg to be a Slatebreaker in our earlier review, but wow, we had no idea how much further she could go. This book, as well as the two sequels in between, elevate Meg to Slatebreaking superhero. Not only does she, you know, escape from terrorists based on her savvy and will to survive, but she deals with PTSD and the aftermath of a horrifying event with remarkable grace and fury.
Who would we give it to? I am really going to start advocating hard for this series. For one thing, it’s outstandingly compelling. I read this last one on a train from Michigan to Chicago (I’ve been doing a lot of traveling this holiday season) and I could not put it down. I read a bunch of great stuff, but this one won for sheer engaging readability. And if you’re a fan of contemporary realism, especially with any kind of political bent, you’ll really like this whole series. But this book, the strongest comparison I would draw is actually with Kristen Cashore’s fantasy series Bitterblue. Like that book, this is a book about the aftermath of a disaster. The immediate danger has passed, the “happy ending” where our heroes were saved came in a previous book. But just because the danger is over doesn’t mean that everything is magically ok, and, like in Bitterblue, our characters have to deal with not only healing themselves, but the larger political implications of that healing. Taking 700 pages to deal with, not a disaster, but recovery from a disaster is something that I deeply appreciate, and something that White does extremely well here. As a side note: there aren’t enough books about people in college, either YA or adult. It’s something that’s come up a bunch in the whole “New Adult” debate, which I’m not all that interested in exploring here. But I think, for those that are, this book would fit into that category. Also, it can totally stand on it’s own, for those who have not read the previous books, with plenty of exposition to get you up to speed.
Warning: spoilers ahead for the first three books in this series!
Review: In my previous review, I already raved about how awesome Meg Powers is, how fantastic it is to see a complicated and rich portrayal of a female president, and how terrifically readable these books are. So I’m not going to rehash, but trust me, all of those things are still totally and completely true about these characters and books.
A quick recap – the first three books in this series were originally published in the 1980s, and then reissued (and updated) in 2007. In The President’s Daughter Katherine Powers runs for, and is elected the first female president of the United States. In White House Autumn, President Powers is shot, and the family has to deal with her recovery and the aftermath. Then, in Long Live the Queen, Meg is kidnapped by terrorists. She ultimately survives her ordeal, escapes, and the book ends with her reunion with her family.
Long May She Reign is unique, because it was written nearly 2 decades after the first three books in the series, alongside the reissue of the earlier books. It also adds a level of complexity to the series. Where the ending of Long Live the Queen is one of triumph and survival, we see in this fourth book that it was by no means the end of the experience for Meg or her family. After everything she’s been through to survive, the ending is no longer about the act of escape – it’s about coming to terms with survival.
Which, it turns out, is not all that easy.
From a Slatebreaking point of view, Meg proves her continued Slatebreaking prowess through both her literal actions (um, she breaks her own hand with a rock so that she can get out of her handcuff and escape from a cave where she was locked up to die), and through her mental and emotional stamina, pushing herself to get through challenges of all levels. She goes to college, even though she’s still physically and emotionally recovering. She tries as hard as she can to still be there for her family, as they deal with what happened. She has to go through multiple surgeries, physical therapy, and come to terms with the fact that she won’t ever be the athlete she was. She has to re-negotiate pretty much every relationship she has in her life, under new terms, and she has to do it all in the public eye. The fact that she is able to do any of it is amazing. Her strength of character, her humor, her resilience and intelligence are all evident in the way she deals with everything. Nothing is easily resolved, but we’re left with an overwhelming sense of Meg’s strength in the face of insurmountable odds.
The fact that throughout all of this, Meg is uncomfortably and unavoidably in the public eye, is dealt with in a fascinating, permeating way, and really made me think about how we deal with celebrity. It was present in the earlier books, but in this one Meg is over 18, and her escape has pushed her into major celebrity status. The mix of fury, frustration and skill with which she deals with the media over the course of the book is a really important component of her story, and very thoughtfully handled. Again, it never becomes easy to deal with. However, Meg does become better at negotiating it, and that makes the difference.
The book is long too. And it gives a lot of insight into not only Meg’s experience, but her parents’ and brothers’ and the other characters we grew to care about during the earlier books during the crisis. A number of tears were shed, especially during the scenes between Meg and her parents (who I love so much as characters). President Powers refused to negotiate with terrorists when Meg was kidnapped. And whether or not the two of them can get past that, sometimes doesn’t seem possible. But somehow, the complexities of the situation, and that relationship, are brought to life really powerfully here, without resorting to platitudes or easy fixes. The changing dynamic between these two amazing women makes this book profoundly worth reading.
Being a Slatebreaker, as we have said many times, is about taking your life into your own hands and standing up for the person that you want to be. In the early books in this series, we had a confident, capable character, who was comfortably and easily a Slatebreaker. But how do you become the person you want to be when the options you thought you had for yourself aren’t there anymore, and your sense of identity and security is called into question? Meg Powers becomes a different type of Slatebreaker in this book. But she is absolutely my hero (even though calling her that would make her really mad).
Reviewed from copy purchased at Bookman’s in Mesa, AZ.