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Sarah by Kaylene Johnson

The Advocate

Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska's Political Establishment Upside Down
by Kaylene Johnson

Reviewed by Heather R. Hunt

"...currently the most worthwhile book to read about Governor Sarah Palin's career..."

The interminable 2008 presidential election may have finally dragged to a stop on November 4, but the historic nature of having a minority on each ticket guarantees that the election will be talked about for years to come. To that end, it's a good time to review the best biography of the first female Republican nominee for vice president. Kaylene Johnson's Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned the Political Establishment Upside Down is currently the most worthwhile book to read about Governor Sarah Palin's career for two reasons:

1. It was written before the Governor was selected by Senator John McCain, so it's free of the breathless hype or hammering that often accompanies stories about the former VP nominee these days, and

2. Johnson is a fellow Alaskan, who lives outside of Palin's hometown of Wasilla, and so has seen the political rise of the former VP nominee firsthand. Unlike the several other authors who jumped on the publishing bandwagon and came out with Palin books, including the February 2009 release of Trailblazer by People magazine's assistant editor Lorenzo Benet.

While Johnson occasionally strays into nature writing as she waxes eloquent about the Mat-Su Valley region north of Anchorage and between two mountain ranges where both she and Palin live, these lapses are rare and to be excused in the life story of someone who herself often gushes about her home state. More awkward are Johnson's frequent forays into Palin's mind in her assertions about what Palin is feeling or thinking in certain situations. I don't believe Johnson interviewed Palin herself, although she did speak with several family members and friends, so writing about Palin's thoughts or feelings is too much of a stretch.

Those caveats aside, Johnson presents the chronological personal and political pilgrimage of Sarah Palin from her birth in Idaho through the birth of her fifth child in April 2008. And it certainly is an old-fashioned only-in-America tale, that combines the elements of a Mark Twain novel, a Frank Capra movie, and the real-life, homegrown sagas of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Christian social conservatives will enjoy reading of Palin's regular church attendance as a child and baptism at age 12, in addition to her pro-life decisions to have her Down's syndrome child and to accept her teenage daughter's baby. Political observers will relish the inside look at the machinations of Alaskan town and state governments as well as Palin's truly grass-roots, underdog gubernatorial campaign success.

I appreciate Johnson's inclusion of Governor Palin's full inaugural address; it's a great speech on its own and also gives many hints toward Palin's governing philosophy should she seek national office again. It's also telling that she is the first governor to hold her inauguration not in the state capitol of Juneau, but in Fairbanks, in homage to the city where the Alaska Constitution was written. In addition, surviving authors of the Constitution were invited guests on stage, and the Constitution itself was on display as part of the inaugural ceremonies. She seems to hold such governing documents in high regard.

Having recommended Johnson's book as the best overall Palin biography, I want to mention two other books that focus on specific areas of Palin's life:

1. What Does Sarah Palin Believe? by Michael Patrick Leahy is a fairly exhaustive though not very professionally put together chronicling of her parents' and her own faith, including her leadership in the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes and her lack of imposing her beliefs into her governing actions. Leahy conducted many interviews and includes a lot of information. His book could have used another heavy edit, but I'm sure it was rushed to get out before the end of the campaign.

2. Sarah Takes on Big Oil (www.sarahtakesonbigoil.com) by Kay Cashman and Kristen Nelson is a thorough reportorial account of Governor Palin's efforts to completely overhaul Alaska's dealings with the Big Three oil companies in order to make sure Alaskans were no longer taken advantage of. Cashman and Nelson work for PetroleumNews.com, the definitive source of news on Alaska's biggest industry. This book, too, could have used more editing, because some of the news articles are repeated, but it is well worth reading if you are interested in the amazing saga. It is also a very professional hardcover with a center section of award-winning industry photographs by freelancer Judy Patrick, who was Palin's Deputy Mayor in Wasilla, and who also put out a 2009 Sarah Palin calendar.

Heather R. HuntHeather R. Hunt is a business editor in Connecticut. For fun she reads, writes, cheers on the Red Sox, and enjoys tennis and cycling. She also co-leads a local tea party and enjoys holding government officials and media outlets accountable. Check out her blogs, The View from Stonewater and Connecticut for Sarah Palin.