Young adult literature — whether contemporary, fantasy, or science-fiction — is filled with real-life parallels. So it should come as no surprise that politics are often front and center in some of our favorite YA books.
And what’s politics without politicians?
While there seem to be a lot more unscrupulous than good pols in fiction, there’s a nice mix of philosophies and ideas when it comes to politicians in YA. Some fictional leaders are devilishly evil, others are simply incompetent. Regardless, they’re dangerous either way.
But there are some good guys and gals in the politics game too. These are the characters we root and cheer for — the types of politicians we want to see representing us in real life.
So let’s explore these politicians, shall we? Here are some of the downright worst YA political leaders, and a few good ones too.
Harry Potter’s Cornelius Fudge is different than some of the other leaders on this list in that he is not outright evil. In fact, there are moments where he’s actually very charismatic and pleasant. But as readers get to know him, they see his true colors. He’s ignorant — blinded by ego and potential political gains. He also knows how to weaponize the media and use it to secure his grip on political and social thought in the Wizarding World.
Divergent‘s powerful Erudite leader didn’t get to where she is because of a solid political career. She became head of Erudite because of her IQ score. That should be worrisome enough. On top of that, she’s mastered the art of propaganda, using rhetoric and rumors to undermine her Abnegation foes. In the end, she masterminds an almost-genocide.
We know early on that Mockingjay‘s Alma Coin isn’t someone to quickly embrace. She may head District 13 and the rebellion against the Capitol, but it’s clear that there’s something dark and sinister behind her motivations. Though she advocates for justice and freedom, she’s also just as willing to enslave and kill her enemies as the man she ousted from power. She’s a classic example of “talking out of both sides of the mouth.”
When it comes to the Red Queen series, it’s hard to choose between Maven and his mother, Queen Elaria. Both are bad in their own right, but Maven’s the one who seems to do the most damage in the end. He’s outright crazy and is in no position to hold power of any kind — let alone be king of Norta. This is one bad guy who should have never been given a crown.
Some might be surprised to see her on this list, but don’t forget: Umbridge is Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic — the number two of the Wizarding World. She’s basically vice president. Her political career survives through three administrations. Not only is she bigoted and high browed, but she’s insanely cruel — just ask Harry Potter. Of everyone on this list, she just might be the worst.
Ok, ok. There might be one person worse than Umbridge. The Hunger Games’s charismatic and murderous President Snow tops our list for worst of them all. Is there much that needs to be said about him? He kills his own people and consolidates wealth for himself and a small percentage of Panem. And to top it off, he likes his dirty politics to get personal. Snow will go out of his way to plan a trip to intimidate his enemies face to face in their own homes.
Scrimgeour?! Yes, Scrimgeour. While he certainly isn’t liked by Harry Potter, he’s not necessarily a bad guy. Does he use propaganda and media in his arsenal? Yes (let’s be honest, which politician doesn’t?) But he ultimately wants to topple Voldemort’s regime. At the end of his life, he’s tortured by Voldemort who hopes to learn of Harry’s location. Scrimgeour doesn’t only put up a fight, but he never betrays Harry. There’s something admirable about that.
Marie Lu’s political villain, Elector Primo, is toppled early on in the Legend series. When his son, Anden, assumes power, it’s shocking to see that he’s a good guy who’s aware of the damage his father has done. He’s humble and open-minded and wants to set things right in the world. It also helps that he owns the hearts of a thousand fangirls. 😉
Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series is amazing for countless reasons. In particular, the final two books of the original trilogy offer great commentary on political revolutions and the ethics behind such movements. At the heart of that story is Elend Venture — a young and idealistic leader who wants to transform the world for the better. He learns that’s a lot easier said than done. And while he changes drastically by the end, he never truly sacrifices his heart.
Does much need to be said about Hermione Granger? While we don’t get nearly enough time seeing her as Minister for Magic in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, there’s no doubt that she leads the Wizarding World with skill, intelligence and compassion.