Sources Say author Lori Goldstein shines a light on politics for young readers

Sources Say by Lori Goldstein. Image courtesy Penguin Random House
Sources Say by Lori Goldstein. Image courtesy Penguin Random House /

Sources Say puts a YA spin on elections and fake news. We chatted with author Lori Goldstein about how the current political landscape plays in her book.

Election fatigue is real, but that doesn’t mean the symptoms of 2020 are going away anytime soon. Instead, we have to learn how to combat fake news and disinformation and consume media in a savvier manner.

Enter Sources Say, Lori Goldstein’s latest young adult novel about a heated election at a preppy charter school in New England. The book navigates complex themes around journalism, social media, politics, and even the #MeToo movement.

Thanks to the book’s timely subject matter, we chatted with Goldstein about Sources Say‘s role in educating young and old readers alike about the complexities of politics.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Culturess:  Sources Say handles a lot of complex and current media ideas like fake news, disinformation, and the #MeToo movement. What made you want to tackle all of these topics in one book and what was the hardest part?

Lori Goldstein:  The idea for Sources Say came about during a somewhat lively discussion (argument?!) with my nephews. We were talking about the pros and cons of things like Reddit and using social media as a way to get your news.

…as we talked further, I became fascinated by the notion of how we now get our news—adults, but especially teens.

How do we know what sources are “trustworthy”? In this age where the president tweets about #fakenews and the line between fact and fiction seems to blur, what message are teens getting? And what tools do they have—do any of us have—to evaluate what’s true and what’s not?

It is a simple concept that has gotten much more complicated. By setting a story in high school, in a student council election, I knew I’d be able to tackle this issue with respect to politics—a microcosm of what’s happening in the “real world.”

And having an issue to divide the school, and the campaigns, lent itself to a sexual harassment scandal, something that is all too prevalent still for girls in school. The hardest part was coming up with a way to make these weighty topics accessible and fun to read.

I didn’t want to write a preachy book—I love writing with humor and writing strong characters—but I also didn’t want to shy away from the importance. My hope was to strike a balance but to have, first and foremost, this be a high school drama with an undercurrent of politics.

Culturess:  Sources Say centers on a heated school election. What do you most want readers of all ages to take away from the book? 

Goldstein:  Sources Say has a lot of fun in it—from the characters to the dialogue to the included illustrations and social media posts—and I want readers to enjoy the experience of reading it. Ultimately, it is a story about family, both biological and found, and I hope readers see that and think of the important relationships in their own lives.

But it does cover some important and timely topics. How does our media cover and treat our political candidates? What responsibility do journalists have in relaying the news? What responsibility do news consumers have for parsing out what’s real and what’s fake?

And how do you begin to discern the line between those things in a world where we are inundated with news and rumors and social media? …Cat says the journalism of her grandfather’s day is not the journalism of hers, and that’s true.

Things might change, and we all might need to be able to adapt, but that doesn’t mean truth no longer matters. I want readers to internalize that and fight for it in whatever ways they can.

Culturess:  For those who haven’t read the book yet, can you talk a bit about how the specific devices of Frankengirls and the Shrieking Violet work in your book? Is there something you wanted young readers, in particular, to take away from these ideas versus older readers?

Goldstein:  Social media and constant access to phones with cameras has changed what it means to be a teenager. Nothing is private anymore, and the Frankengirls are a way to bring this to light.

Pictures taken at a high school pool party and posted on social media are transformed into Photoshopped girls who the creator calls “perfect 10s”. A leg from one girl, a hand from another, eyes from one, hair from another, the photos are mish-mashed into a “Frankengirl.”

It’s awful and degrading, and unfortunately, not all that far from the reality of what happens today. While I want teens, and especially young women, to be cognizant of the reality of how their images can be shared and used and twisted, the point of Sources Say is to show how such a disgusting act can bring women together to fight for their rights. To not be objects.

That’s the message I hope comes across. The introduction of the Shrieking Violet shows the opposite of that. It’s an Onion-like newspaper whose aim is to be funny and provocative without regard to the rumors it’s spreading and the people who may be hurt.

It’s an extreme version of what happens when someone takes advantage of a situation for their own gain or amusement. As much as those stories may make you smile, I also want them to make you cringe, to make you upset, and to realize that this type of rumor spreading shouldn’t happen in any form.

And supporting one another rather than tearing each other down helps to start eliminating so much hurt in the world—something that teens feel deeply.

Culturess:  In the midst of the school election, Sources Say also has a “real” election in the background. Why did you choose to contrast these two environments and what do you hope readers will take away?

Goldstein:  It’s been widely talked about that teens are more active today politically. Be it climate change or Black Lives Matter, teens are realizing they have a voice that can be heard and should be heard.

Sometimes, however, I think this activity doesn’t translate as well to realizing that they also have a role in the actual politics of national and local elections. Of course, this is far for many until they turn 18.

But becoming aware of politics, politicians, and how to start evaluating what they believe is vital. I hope seeing this through the lens of a student council election that is about an issue that directly affects the students in the school will help them extrapolate this to the world waiting outside of high school.

Culturess:  What would Cat and Angeline have to say about the current landscape? How are they handling 2020?

Goldstein:  These two young women are so very different! Yet, I actually think they would both ultimately find ways to make the best of the situation by digging deep into what they each love.

Cat, the journalist, would have so many stories to cover and investigations to embark on that she’d be up early and going to bed late. Angeline, the influencer, would be using this time to test out all kinds of avenues to reach and help her followers—with tips on how to make the most of quarantine.

Thankfully, having each other, they’d never be alone. Though they will one hundred percent get on each other’s nerves!

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Sources Say is available wherever books are sold.