3 out of 4 stars
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Kevin Allen Faye is a political consultant and lobbyist who goes on a trip to Belize with Teddy Rose, his friend. They meet Terra Nicholas, a charismatic woman who happens to be the first-born citizen of independent Belize. Lacking opportunities in the US, Kevin suggests that Terra run for president, with him managing the campaign. Though Terra has no relevant experience and Kevin barely knows anything about Belize’s laws and politics, that doesn’t stop the gang from trying. Will our protagonists win the election despite having the entire political establishment against them?
Matt Lambert’s Independence Girl is best described as a tragicomedy. Its absurdist view of contemporary politics makes it one of the oddest books I’ve read this year. Whether this oddity is a good or bad thing will depend on the reader. Even now, I’m struggling to find words to properly convey my feelings about it.
If you enjoy character-driven narratives, this novel is likely not for you. The characters aren’t particularly deep or even all that likable, but they’re not supposed to be. Kevin, in particular, is a caricaturesque political strategist whose schemes are as questionable as they’re hilarious. At one point, he even invades a school just to use the chalkboard. The other characters are also quirky and amusing, even if not exactly relatable.
The book thrives on dry and dark humor, as well as political satire, so it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Some of the main themes are the rising wave of populism and the influence of social media on politics, both of which Kevin loves to exploit. Another point of contention is the novel’s ending, which is quite dark and seems to come out of left field.
Besides following the characters’ shenanigans, Independence Girl also spends a lot of time introducing the reader to Belize and its culture and history. We learn about historical spots, the country’s political structure, and much more as the story progresses.
There are two things I disliked about the novel. The first is that the plot takes a while to start; the first few chapters are more of a travel diary than anything else. The second is the unfortunate number of errors in the book, ranging from misplaced punctuation to run-on sentences and extraneous words.
I rate Independence Girl 3 out of 4 stars. Even though it was a very different reading experience, I ultimately enjoyed myself aside from the poor editing and the slow beginning. I don’t recommend the book to readers who dislike politics or prefer well-developed and likable characters. If you like the sort of unique sense of humor present in the novel, you might have a great time, especially if you’re interested in Central America. There are a few profanities and some sexually suggestive content (though no sex scenes per se), so the novel is unsuitable for young audiences.
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