A satirical novel, no matter how keyed in it might have seemed the moment it was written, usually stales some in the time it takes to hit the shelves. The weird thing about America's Report Card is that its (energetic, even enjoyable) satire seems off even for the moment the action supposedly takes place—2004, the presidential election in full swing, 9/11 already a distant memory for our purple-haired protagonist Jainey as she muddles through high-school graduation.
Jainey issues a classic cry for help in the form of the essay question on a national standardized test: Basically, she thinks the government's out to get her. Charlie, a newly minted PhD in film studies, is temporarily employed grading these exams when he encounters Jainey's blue book, and he feels compelled by her personality to come to the rescue. As he's traveling to Chicago to track her down, Jainey is lured into the wild world of conspiracy theories at her favorite wig store. She gets hung up on Ruby Ridge, but curiously has no interest in the World Trade Center.
The only conceivable reason for this disinterest is that author John McNally is steering Jainey and Charlie to a climactic shootout soaked in '90s themes. (An abortion clinic is involved.) Clearly, McNally's hung up on another time period while pretending to satirize the present. Doesn't he realize that ever since Bush has had a job in the White House the evangelical whack jobs have been happily assimilated into the political process?