Jenn Marie Thorne's 'The Wrong Side of Right' Takes A Critical Eye To Today's U.S. Political System, And It's Funny, Too — EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT
Sometimes a novel comes along that fits so perfectly in the present day zeitgeist that you wonder if the author had a crystal ball back when she started writing. That's the way many readers feel about Jenn Marie Thorne's debut young adult novel The Wrong Side of Right (Dial). If you've been reading the news in, oh, the last two years (or so...), you know that the American political system is severely broken. Divisions around party lines are forged in steel, presenting problems getting anything done, particularly around controversial issues of women's rights (yes, they're controversial), racial politics, and immigration.
In The Wrong Side of Right, Thorne is able to take a critical eye toward these troubling issues in U.S. politics — particularly when it comes to the timely problem of immigration policies — without veering to preachiness or sacrificing her funny, lively story. The Wrong Side of Right follows Kate Quinn who finds out that her long-lost father is a senator running for president. When she joins him on the campaign trail, she comes to realize that his political stances don't exactly align with her own. And as we all know, heated political discussion and the dinner table are not like peanut butter and jelly.
The Wrong Side of Right may not be coming to bookstores until March 17, but Bustle partnered with Dial at Penguin Random House to give a first, exclusive look at an excerpt of the upcoming novel.
The following is an excerpt from Jenn Marie Thorne's The Wrong Side of Right:
Campaign headquarters was a two-story building in an industrial park just across the Virginian border. There were signs and banners everywhere, a parking lot crammed with cars, from Porsches to beaters in worse shape than my hand-me-down Buick back in South Carolina, many of them bearing Cooper for President bumper stickers.
I held my breath as we crossed to the brightly bannered entrance, picturing the entire building full of Tim the Sullen Campaign Aide—Tim in suits, Tim in dresses, Tim in puffy campaign sweatshirts.
A middle-aged woman in an actual puffy campaign sweatshirt held the door for us. Her eyes widened when they reached mine, but she smiled anyway. So far so good.
The first room we entered looked like the inside of a piñata, red-and-blue banners everywhere printed with “The America We Know!” I wasn’t quite sure what America they were all in agreement about, but this probably wasn’t the best time to ask. I spotted a wide room with long tables, more than a dozen people gathered stuffing campaign bags. Each of them wore an oversized button bearing a more straightforward slogan: “Cooper for America.”
As curious eyes started to dart upward, Nancy quickly ushered us into the noisy hall. Every room we passed crackled with its own charge of activity. In the space of thirty seconds, I spotted four agitated phone calls, one closed-door meeting, two heated arguments, and a clutch of young staffers leaning over a computer screen laughing nervously. And that was before we reached the main room, a wide space packed with occupied desks, no one pausing their phone dialogue or frenzied typing even as the senator walked through. It was busy here. An active campaign.
And an anxious one.
The air was thick with it. It sunk into me like cement, not helpful given how uncomfortable I felt already. I drew a silent breath as we reached the back of the command center and slid into a huge conference room—
Where approximately forty staffers were waiting for us.
The long table in the center was full to bursting, the edges of the room jammed with aides forced to stand while taking copious notes on laptops, tablets, or notepads. Who were all these people?
“Kate!” Elliott rose from the table with a Cheshire Cat grin. “We were just talking about you!”
The table laughed and the standers shot each other tepid smiles. I didn’t get the joke until my eyes landed on the mounted TV and took in the paused news report showing, once more, dear God, that horrible, painful—how did my forehead get even shinier?—yearbook shot.
I clutched Nancy’s arm. “Do you think we could take another photo? I’m ready when you are!”
Nancy started to reply, but Elliott cut her off. “We’ll take a lot more photos. Have a seat.”
Who was he talking to? This seemed like a strategy meeting. Two people at the table stood and shuffled to the edges of the room, where the standers shifted to accommodate them. Two seats. For the senator and . . .
“I’ll leave you guys to it.” The senator patted my back. Oh no. “Lou?”
Louis got up from the far side of the table, gathering his laptop and notes. He winked so mischievously as he passed that I half expected him to hand me a four-leaf clover.Instead, he followed the senator out of the room, shutting the door behind him with a dull thud.
Feeling forty sets of eyes boring into my back, I turned. Nancy was relaxing into one of the empty leather swivel chairs. She patted the table encouragingly. I took the seat next to her—and nearly slid right off as it rolled backward.
Elliott blinked. Recovered. I tried to do the same.
Someone in the back coughed. I spotted Tim standing awkwardly in the corner, even grumpier than the last time I saw him, and felt a petty twinge of gratitude that he wasn’t important enough to sit at the conference table.
Elliott tapped one of a long row of whiteboards with a capped marker.
“As your dad told you, Kate . . .” He smirked, like there were air-quotes around the word dad. “Your big debut is in a few days. Four days and three hours from now, to be exact.”
Actually, my “dad” hadn’t told me. Meg had. This Friday, I would be introduced to the world via live press conference, my first official public appearance alongside Meg, Gracie, Gabe, and the senator himself. Cameras, reporters, smiling, waving. Fielding questions. I felt my heartbeat ratchet up to jackhammer mode and shoved the thought away.
“So we’re gonna take today to get to know you. And brand you.”
Everyone on the edges of the room started scribbling.
“Brand me?” Like a cow?
“We’ve already got a lot to work with.” Nancy beamed. “You’re a good student, well-liked by your peers. You’ve stayed out of trouble.”
“Of course she has!” An African American staffer down the table snorted through an impressive mustache. “She’s sixteen. The scandals don’t start till they hit college.”
“Not true,” another table guy piped up. He looked like he was in college himself, with his tousled hair and Ivy League outfit, rolled sleeves and loosened stripy tie. He pointed at Elliott. “Andy Lawrence.”
Elliott pointed back, turned eagerly to the whiteboard, and scrawled the name while the room murmured.
Andy Lawrence. The president’s son.
I tried to picture him, recalling that image from the news the other day, but what popped up more vividly was the inside of Lily Hornsby’s locker door, a magazine cut-out taped neatly to its top right corner. Lily had a crush on Andy Lawrence. That tall kid—I still couldn’t remember his name—teased her about it over lunch one day and I remembered suspecting he was jealous of a photo from US News and World Report.
I’d peeked one morning as we were getting our books out, taking in blond hair, a flash of teeth, a raised hand. Honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed.
“That’s good, Cal.” Nancy leaned forward, grinning. “We juxtapose Kate and Andy, we’ll win every time.”
“Wait,” I interrupted. “What’s wrong with the president’s son?”
“Good,” Elliott barked, marker raised. “Go.”
I opened my mouth and shut it. Was he talking to me?
“The cow prank at Farnwell Prep,” the mustached aide said.
“Too long ago,” Elliott countered.
Ivy League lazily raised his hand. “Sexy Ronald Reagan.”
Elliott wrote it down like the marker was on fire and several people along the edges started to laugh. Catching my bemused expression, Nancy leaned closer.
“Halloween party last year, Andy Lawrence wore Baywatch trunks and a Ronald Reagan mask. It went viral within hours—very poor judgment.”
She seemed to smirk and sniff at the same time. It didn’t seem like that big a deal to me, but I knew better than to say so out loud, especially given the obsession these guys seemed to have with Reagan.
A skinny Asian staffer in a gray suit raised his hand. “He was shit-faced at the Correspondents’ Dinner.”
“Whoa,” I blurted.
I knew the Correspondents’ Dinner from clips online. It was a press event, part dinner party, part political roast, so not exactly the most serious occasion. But to show up drunk would be pretty shocking, especially if you were the son of the president, especially especially if you were the underage son of the president. It wasn’t as though alcohol had never passed my lips. Mom used to let me have a glass of wine at Christmastime, and I’d sampled the occasional warm beer at a party or two (blech)—but not with the entire country’s press corps watching. It couldn’t possibly have been true.
Nancy shook her head. “And nobody reported on it. A room full of press . . .”
“Can’t go after the president’s kids until they’re eighteen. That’s the rule.” Elliott pointed to the whiteboard. “It’s still the rule, but if they strike first? We strike back harder!”
A laugh bubbled out of me.
Elliott’s face stiffened, his hand clenching the marker like he was trying to snap it in two.
He was embarrassed. This wasn’t good.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, trying and failing to maintain a smile. “‘We strike back harder.’ It’s from that movie, right?” My voice fell mouse quiet. “The . . . one with Bruce Willis?”
My brain scrambled for the title, as if that could clear the air, but with everyone staring, I couldn’t remember. Wasn’t it the movie I’d gone to see the night of my mom’s accident? Before that realization had time to sink in, I heard a chuckle across the table. The Ivy League guy was grinning.
“Max Drive! Yes! I love that movie!”
The room loosened at that, everyone daring to let out a laugh or two. Everyone but Elliott, anyway. He was staring at me like I’d accused him of something way worse than plagiarizing a line from a subpar movie.
He leaned way over the conference table and everyone fell abruptly silent. I felt my chair roll back of its own volition.
“So now we know she loves bad action movies.”
Nope, I thought, but clamped my mouth shut. Elliott’s eyes flared with such maliciousness that I half expected him to order me out of the room. Instead, with painful effort, he smiled.
“Let’s see what else we can learn about Kate.”
* * *
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No.” My hands were clammy against my knees. Questions had flown at me for seventy minutes, steady and relentless. Some were about public speaking I’d done, how much I knew about the Republican Party. But just as I’d settle into the rhythm of what they were after, someone else would launch a prying question, slapping me back into squirminess.
“Have you ever had one?”
The assistants lining the room peered up, pens poised. Was there a right answer to this?
“No, I . . . no.” Scribble, scribble.
“Girlfriend?” From Elliott. Everyone held their breath.
“No. I’m straight.” And everyone exhaled.
I made a mental note to thank Gabe and Gracie for the practice grilling they’d given me over the weekend.
“Have you ever taken part in a protest?”
“Any food allergies?”
“Did you attend church with your mother? With your aunt and uncle? What denomination? Every Sunday or just on holidays?”
“What was your SAT score?”
It wasn’t until the door was flung open and I spilled into the hall with the others that I realized the oddest thing about that introductory meeting. There had been no introductions, no “Hi, I’m Kate, what’s your name?” with any of the people in that room. None looked likely to follow either, with everyone walking past, talking into phones, talking to be heard over the sound of talking.
“No polls today,” the mustached aide muttered as he passed. “Elliott’s orders.”
“You’ll survive, Chuck,” said Ivy League.
Chuck, I thought. Got it. As I made a mental note to gather more names for later Googling, Nancy linked her arm through mine, steering me into the hall.
“We’ve cleared a space for you.” She waved off two young staffers who looked desperate to ask her a question. “And we’ve assigned you an aide.”
“I’m Libby!” A girl appeared from nowhere and kept pace with us. “Short for Liberty!”
Short for Liberty was probably in her early twenties, but dressed like she was fifty. She had pink cheeks and long brown hair knotted in a tight bun. I resisted the urge to hug her for not being Tim.
Nancy swept the door open to a small office with a window overlooking the parking lot. On a desk inside, there was a stack of binders, to which Libby added the few she was carrying.
“For you to study,” Nancy said. “Our approved talking points are in here, along with the campaign’s policy positions. If you have a difference of opinion . . . kindly keep it to yourself!” She laughed and I laughed along, but before I could say “Wait—seriously?” she was already out the door, calling behind her, “Libby can answer any questions you might have!”
Libby bounced as she sat. I smiled warily and opened the top binder, noticing tabs for all the major policy issues: Economy, Foreign Policy, Environment, Social Issues.
Flipping to the last one, I blinked in surprise. “He’s pro-choice?” That wasn’t popular among Republicans.
“We’re not supposed to talk about it. And if we get cornered . . .” She leaned over the desk and pointed to the approved talking point.
I recited it aloud. “Senator Cooper believes that all life is sacred, including the lives of women.”
“Perfect!” Libby chirped, with no discernable trace of irony.
A tab toward the back read “Immigration.” I hesitated for a second before flipping to it. On the top of the page, inbold, was written, “HARD LINE ON IMMIGRATION—no deviation.”
A huge binder slammed down on the desk next to me. I jumped.
Libby smiled. “This book’s got all of our immigration policy statements. It’s what won us the nomination!”
I stared at the binder, dread pooling in my stomach at the prospect of finding out exactly what “hard line” meant. My finger traced the word Immigration, and suddenly, I was back in my LA high school, surrounded by familiar faces. I was in a sun-bleached, fenced backyard, being teased by Penny Diaz’s older brother and tugged at by her tiny little sister . . .
“I’ll look at this later,” I said, pushing the binder away and piling a few others on top.
Libby stared at me with veiled concern. It was an expression I’d seen on more than one face today—including the senator’s.
I forced a smile. “I do have a question, though.”
“Who is everybody around here? I’ve only met Nancy, Louis, and Elliott so far . . .”
Relieved, Libby launched into a giddy rundown, starting with Mr. Ivy League. His name was Calvin Montgomery. He’d been the Communications Director for a dark horse (“fat chance”) Libertarian candidate early in the primaries.
All I’d ever heard about Libertarians was a joke my uncle made while watching the news: “Republicans who smoke pot.” But judging by the crisp press of Cal’s button-down shirt, I was guessing he didn’t quite fit the mold.
“Nancy recruited Cal after his candidate dropped out,” Libby said. “He’s our speechwriter. He’s very talented.” Her eyes went dreamy.
“Kate!” Libby giggled, swatting my arm.
For all her blushes, Libby sat us down right next to Cal at lunch—and proceeded to say absolutely nothing, leaving me to fill the awkward silence.
“So . . . you’re a Libertarian?” I tried, reaching over Cal to grab a turkey sandwich from the platter.
“Have you read The Fountainhead?” He squeezed my shoulder, lit by sudden fervor. “I’ll loan you my copy!”
It was only after Cal ducked back upstairs that Libby found her voice again. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
I was about to dutifully answer “no” for about the fiftieth time, but spying the desperation in her eyes, I thought of something.
“Do you think we could get my uncle to send me my clothes from home? I only packed for the weekend . . .”
“Oh.” Libby’s face dropped. “I have to check with Nancy and Elliott. I think . . . they’re picking your clothes.”
“Picking my clothes?” As in . . . new clothes? “I’m not sure Elliott and I have the same taste in shoes.”
“Oh.” Libby didn’t seem to get the joke. Jokes in general, actually. “Well, they’re bringing in some consultants too.”
“Fashion consultants?” My mouth fell open.
“Political stylists,” she corrected, as if it were a completely normal job title. “They styled Carolee McReady before the primaries.”
Her voice was hushed with awe.
“Oh. Wow.” I had no idea who Carolee McReady was.
As I was stuffing my face with the last bite of my turkey sub, I glanced up to see Nancy motioning into the room and an impossibly tan trio staring at me with open disappointment.
“That’s them,” Libby stage-whispered.
A half hour later, I was called into the conference room, just long enough for the trio to silently sling a tape measure around me here, there, and everywhere, the dozen strategists at the table doing their noble best to avert their eyes. I wasn’t sure what was more embarrassing, seeing campaign staff taking notes on my SAT score or my bra size.
When I was released back to my cubby, I let my shoulders slump, praying that the embarrassing portion of the day was over. Luckily, the office was quiet. Libby had ducked out for a team “regroup” meeting, leaving me with only the binders and laptop for company.
As soon as I sat at the desk, it hit me—this was the first time I’d had both privacy and access to the Internet. I could go on the news sites and find out if they’d changed my photo yet.
I could read that New York Times article.
I let my fingers hover over the keyboard. After a five-count, when no one had walked past, I started to type, hot shame sweeping up my cheeks: “Kate . . . Quinn . . . New . . . York . . . T . . .”
But then . . . If I was going to Google embarrassing things, why not start with the other tidbit that had been burning a curious hole in my brain all afternoon?
I typed it.
“Sexy Ronald Reagan.”
And there he was, on US Weekly’s website, a post from last November, wearing a rubber Ronald Reagan mask over . . . pretty much nothing. A bare torso and a pair of bright red swim trunks. Not even any shoes.
Judging by this photo, Andy Lawrence was lightly tanned. Not ripped exactly, but lean, athletic.
The blurb underneath said: “Naughty Andy caught shirtless: Lacrosse sure does a body good!”
I found myself leaning against the desk to look closer. There were two girls to the left of Sexy Ronald Reagan in matching Tinker Bell costumes. I scrolled the image so they weren’t in it.
Voices rose in the hallway. The meeting must have gotten out.
Okay, you’ve seen it, I thought. Close the window.
Seriously, close it.
“Caught ya!” Louis pointed at me from the doorway.
I slammed the laptop shut.
“Am I too late?” He shrugged. “I was heading over here to tell you not to read it. Hard to resist, I know.”
“Oh!” I nearly laughed with relief that he was only half right. “The article? I wasn’t—”
“Not tell you,” Louis corrected himself, settling into Libby’s chair. “You’re gonna do what you’re gonna do. But I’m a campaign advisor. So I wanted to strongly advise you to hold off on reading that profile—at least until the press conference is done.”
He leaned back, hands clasped on top of his bald head, waiting for my rebuttal.
“That’s four days away,” I said. He motioned for me to go on. “It’s just weird, having all this information out there about me, and I haven’t seen a word of it.”
“You seeing it isn’t going to change the fact that it’s out there,” he said. “What it changes is this.” He tapped his head and sat up. “Listen, back in one of our first campaigns, the Boston Globe wrote a piece on me—the Man Behind the Man, that kind of thing. I couldn’t wait to get a copy of this thing. Went out to the newsstand at the crack of dawn. Read it probably thirty times. This reporter must have had a crush on me, because I couldn’t believe what was in this article. Lou Mankowitz!” He pointed to himself, eyes wide. “He came from nothing, but now? He was a political mover and a shaker. Destined for greatness! I was shocked. I had no idea I was so important.”
Louis leaned on the desk. I grinned in reply.
“The next day, your dad comes into the campaign office. I’m walking past him to the watercooler. I give him a wave. He stares at me like I’m a stranger and says, ‘Goddamn it, Lou! You read that article, didn’t you?’ Apparently, I wasn’t walking. I was strutting. And an informal poll of our staff indicated that I’d been a total—excuse my French—asshole for the past thirty hours. I swore that day that I would no longer read my own press. And if I did accidentally happen to see my name in the paper, I wouldn’t believe a word that came after it.”
A freckly guy from the phone bank walked by.
“Sam!” Louis shouted, and he reappeared. “What do I always say about the press?”
Sam’s brow furrowed. “Don’t talk to them?”
“Your own press.”
“Don’t read it?”
Louis pointed at him. “Don’t read your own press! I owe you a Coke.”
As I laughed, Louis turned back to me, his face serious again.
“You want to know what’s in that article, I’ll tell you. It says you’re a great kid. A good student. It talks an awful lot about your mom.”
I nodded, my smile sinking into nothing.
“You can read it all later. But for now, you’ve got enough to deal with. Leave it alone.” He winked as he stood to go. “Otherwise, I’m telling you. You’ll be squirming up there in front of those cameras on Friday.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Pretty sure I’ll be squirming no matter what.”
Louis watched me with a thoughtful squint. “I don’t think so. I’ve known you for five days, Kate Quinn, but I can tell you right now—you’re a lot less of a squirmer than you think you are.”
I smiled at the desk. “Thanks, Mr. Mankowitz.”
“Mr. Mankowitz? Psh. That’s the guy from the article.” He grinned. “I’m just Lou.”
“Lou!” a guy down the hall shouted, as if cued. “I need your signature.”
I waited until he’d gone before I opened the laptop. One last look at Andy Lawrence’s abs, then I cleared the search history, shut it down, and shoved it in a drawer.
Images: Courtesy of Penguin Random House