By Amy Efaw
Released by Penguin (Viking Juvenile)
Review copy provided by publisher
Varian Johnson's comments about his own book, THE LIFE OF A RHOMBUS, reminded me that I'd never reviewed AFTER, another tale of teen pregnancy. AFTER begins at a unique point in the story: as the title implies, it begins after the pregnancy is finished. Athletic, intelligent Devon just left her baby in a dumpster. Now she's quietly bleeding to death on her couch and the police are knocking. What follows is her trial - not whether she's guilty or not, but whether she's tried as an adult.
AFTER will definitely make you think. Amy Efaw doesn't address the more common topic of abortion, but rather other problems that might face teen (or otherwise disadvantaged) pregnant women. Specifically denial of pregnancy. Google it. At least if someone acknowledges their pregnancy, they can go somewhere like Planned Parenthood and learn their options. (Yes, Planned Parenthood does quite a bit for women. It is not a place that simply counsels abortion and that's it.) But women in denial can't prepare in any way. Even if they don't kill the kid, they won't have taken pre-natal vitamins, prepared shelter and food, or anything. And there's almost no support for these women.
But while AFTER gets me thinking, it left me a little cold. In the end, I enjoyed the book more since I didn't believe Devon. But while reading I felt rather mad at her, since I believed she knew she was pregnant. Whether I believed her or not, AFTER did read quickly. It just tended to make me angry for the wrong reasons. (Of course, any book dealing with such a serious issue is going to have trouble toeing that line.)
I also think AFTER presents an interesting view of the juvenile detention system. It isn't pleasant, but it's certainly not the hellish place you'll see in most fiction. But at the same time it makes me sad, given what I know of the prison system. (Which would mostly be how literacy affect recidivism, which isn't super relevant, and capital punishment, which is even less relevant.) Devon ends up with a great public defender and people in the system who care about getting her out of it. I'm happy to see a view of the system that isn't overly harsh, but at the same time it feels too optimistic to be realistic.
If you're into books that grapple with difficult topics, you'll enjoy AFTER. Personally, I'm not sure these kind of books are for me, especially since I didn't like the beloved THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. (I just keep disliking the person I'm suppose to sympathize with.)