Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska's Political Establishment Upside Down
By Kaylene Johnson
Epicenter Press; 158 pages
This month, an Alaskan mother hit the jackpot. Gov. Sarah Palin? No, Kaylene Johnson, the author of Sarah, the first book to be published about Palin. The slender volume, written well before John McCain chose Palin as his running mate, sold some 10,000 copies when it originally came out in April. Now, with 350,000 copies in print and counting, the book has rocketed onto the New York Times bestseller list.
The author doesn't hide her admiration for the Governor, whom she refers to throughout by her first name. In fact, she tells Palin's story in terms usually reserved for the DVD boxes of romantic comedies: "It is a political Cinderella tale in which a small-town mayor and hockey mom follows her hopes and dreams in the face of a disapproving political establishment to become the belle of the inaugural ball." (That's the gubernatorial ball, of course.)
But the hagiographic elements of this book are, unexpectedly, mixed with enough controversy to portray Palin as a fairly sharp-elbowed politician. Johnson conscientiously includes quotes from numerous unflattering articles about her, as well as noting controversies that she left in her wake. The author reports, for example, that a citizen's group was assembled by the disgruntled former mayor of Wasilla to discuss ousting Palin after she beat him for the top municipal post in 1996, and that a raucous two-hour showdown ensued between her detractors and her supporters.
Johnson had access to Palin and her family that a reporter could only dream about now, although even some of her candid statements sound eerily like late-2008 talking points. Referring to her unsuccessful run for the lieutenant governorship of Alaska in 2002, Palin told the author, "There was a lot of talk about the fact that I didn't have years of experience. Leadership shouldn't be based on years of public experience it should be based on vision and example."
A reader looking for nuggets of gossip about America's latest political rock star won't be disappointed. We learn that Sarah shot her first rabbit at age ten; that she shared a room with her two sisters that "was unheated except for a wood stove"; and that one Halloween, she dressed as a pregnant Jane Fonda. But there is also plenty to pore over about Palin as an Alaskan politico, including an analysis of her controversial decision, soon after becoming mayor of Wasilla, to fire all of its incumbent municipal department heads. In fact, the author includes so much about local politics that anyone who is not from Alaska or a total political junkie will be tempted to flip pages.
There is a curious omission in the book: Johnson doesn't write about Palin's beauty queen days, when she came in second in the Miss Alaska contest and was named Miss Congeniality. The reader wonders why that was left out and whether it might have contrasted with Palin's crusading politician backstory. Likewise, there is no mention of her pro-life stance, or her views on creationism. But her religious beliefs, including her baptism at 12 years old, are mentioned with approval.
Sarah is, in the end, a curious blend of Disneyesque prose ("Sarah Heath Palin is at heart a sister, a daughter, and the little girl who learned how to work hard, stand up for herself, and never tell a lie") and careful reporting about the veep candidate's early political life. Despite its often-flowery language, the book is a treasure trove for those hungry for more data on a public figure about whom little is known in the lower 48. No one will be able to close it without marveling at Palin's instant ascent to international fame. Keep in mind that it's only been a dozen years since she won her first election, becoming Wasilla's mayor by a vote of 651 to 440. A little more is now at stake.