Yes, it even happens to me. A cynical librarian who literally reads book reviews for a living. Yes, even I can get suckered into reading a book because my eye catches an advertisement somewhere. I clicked on a banner ad, read what this story was about, saw the very positive reviews in the trade journals, and figured I had to read it. If only to see how the author handled what has got to be the most difficult subject matter I have ever read about in a novel. It's really true what they say. Sometimes the biggest risk taking can be found in Young Adult fiction.
After by Amy Efaw is a story about a young woman who conceals her pregnancy, gives birth in her bathroom, and dumps the baby girl in a trash can in an alley behind her apartment building. Yeah, not exactly a sunshine happy book. The baby is discovered (still alive) and while canvassing the neighborhood the cops discover Devon Davenport, a 15-year-old girl who has stayed home from school because she's hemorrhaging all over her mother's crappy couch. Naturally Devon is arrested, taken to the hospital, and dumped in a juvenile detention facility awaiting a court hearing to determine if she should be tried as an adult. It's also the unfolding of her story. How a girl more mature than her own mother, a talented athlete, a star student, found herself pregnant, alone and completely in denial. How a girl who had never done anything wrong in her entire life could throw her newborn baby away in a garbage bag.
This is not an easy subject to think about, let alone write a novel about. I'll admit, when I saw that the author was a West Point graduate, former Army officer and the mother of five children, my immediate concern was that this book was going to be a non-stop preach-fest. Gotta say, the author does a very good job handling the subject matter without stepping on a soapbox. I never felt like she was pushing any sort of agenda, or opinion. She was telling me a story. A story about a teenage girl who does the unthinkable.
I did find that I had to look at this novel through what I call my Librarian Filter. From a personal standpoint, while I was certainly engaged in the story, as an adult woman, by the halfway point I was ready to reach through the pages and shake Devon senseless. The author explores Devon's denial throughout the story, and after a while I wanted to smack the girl and scream "Wake up! Look at what you did!" I also found myself suspending my disbelief a few times. Namely when it came to Devon's court-appointed attorney, think Perry Mason with boobs, and the staff at the detention center. I couldn't help thinking that Devon, a girl who literally threw her baby in a garbage can, was getting some fairly decent treatment. The adult secondary characters were all so understanding and patient when dealing with her. Would that treatment have been "less than" if she weren't a star athlete, exemplary student and....yes, I'm going to say it....a white girl? A white girl with a trashy single mom who grew up raising herself in seedy apartments - but still.
So yeah, I dropped the ol' Librarian Filter into place.
What it boils down to for me is that the author writes a "good" story about a subject matter that isn't easy to write about. If I was the type of librarian to court controversy, this seems like an ideal candidate for a mother/daughter book club (seriously) and I loved that the author included some background on the "dumpster baby" phenomenon in her end notes. This isn't a modern problem folks. It's been happening pretty much since the dawn of time.
I did think the ending was a little abrupt, but the author does conclude the story at a natural "ending" spot. The genre fiction reader in me though really wanted to know how everything turns out in the end. Basically I wanted a giant epilogue.
At the end of the day? If I had a teenage daughter, I would want her to read this book. I would want us to read it together and discuss it. Which is probably the highest praise I can give. It's not an easy story, and the author doesn't want it to be. She spent years researching it, and undoubtedly many long hours (years) slaving over the text. And honestly, who could blame her? Giving birth to this story could not have been easy.
Final Grade = B
(ISBN 9780670011834, $17.99, Viking, Young Adult)