Standing in Barnes and Noble, I was immediately drawn to the cover of a book with a print of the Capitol Building emblazoned in bright red. The contents of The Cave Dwellers by Christina McDowell, match the exciting cover from first to last page (so exciting that I finished in two days). This book, based in the city that I now call home, talks about challenges to the established elite in Washington D.C. and how tragedy can cause individuals to question norms and ideals that they have never considered before in their life. Further, the author, DC-native Christina McDowell, weaves gender empowerment and equity through the pages that would allow any woman aspiring for a career in politics to relate to her words.
This book follows the story of the “Cave Dwellers” of D.C., and the lives of their children who have taken on the struggles and burdens of their parents. Cave Dwellers are the exclusive elites who run politics, business, lobbying, and everything in between. As the children make their way through their lives, they are faced with a tragedy that affects their entire social circle, and the aftermath challenges them with learning about the inequalities ingrained in the city they have grown to love.
The book touches on privilege that is ingrained in nearly every aspect of living in D.C.: nepotism, evasion of legal consequences, ignorance of other cultures or socioeconomic groups, and separation from problems that affect most of us whose parents aren’t diplomats or high-ranking military officials. While this is something that is oftentimes recognized by D.C. outsiders, seeing a mainstream book address these issues was refreshing as someone who came from a place where these issues are more heavily recognized.
McDowell drew on her personal experiences growing up in the city and attending school with some of the children of D.C. elites to write this novel. Additionally, she incorporated her passion for criminal justice and prison reform into the novel to educate readers about the socioeconomic and racial biases in the city. McDowell is also heavily involved in Democratic politics, working with voter turnout organizations in California during the 2016 election. Finding a book by a strong, local woman made me even more excited to read, and proud to support someone from my region who holds some of the same passions that I do.
This book has been one of my favorite reads since moving to D.C. Being able to read about places that I frequently go to (my favorite Starbucks is heavily featured) drew me even deeper into the novel, like I was a part of the story itself. Even for non-District residents, her detail and descriptions in the book make you feel as if you are walking through the streets of downtown, watching the events unfold.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has recently moved to the area, has lived in the area, has an interest in learning more about what privilege looks like, or shares the same values as McDowell. The Cave Dwellers was a thrilling read from page one and I can’t wait to read the next book that McDowell puts out.
Cover image retrieved from: https://www.christinamcdowell.com/