Sunday, August 30, 2009

There's Got To Be A Morning After

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.

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)


LoriK said...

In a former life I was a social worker in a facility for runaways and juvenile offenders. (We weren't a juvenile lock-up---our kids were mostly short term stays on their way to or from other placements, including lock-up.)

My observation is that race isn't as much of a factor in how kids are treated by detention staff as most people fear. (What happens in court is whole other issue.)

Kids are treated well if they're cooperative and it seems like they can be helped/have a future. They're treated with less patience when they're consistently surly or if they have so many problems that their situation feels hopeless.

The stuff you see in movies where the heroic adult sees something special in the angry kid who lashes out and has everything stacked against him/her and then goes the extra mile, or 20, to save that kid? Doesn't happen much. The juvenile justice system is a perpetual state of emergency. As such every day is triage---who is OK, who is hurt but savable, who is too far gone?

The fact that Devon is a star athlete and "good girl" would tend to put her in the savable column regardless of color. The staff I knew worked incredibly hard on the savable, even when they had done something pretty awful or were driving us nuts---partially because that attitude is what draws you to the work in the first place and partially because things are pretty grim and you need every win you can get.

And thus ends my essay, "Why I Am No Longer in Social Work".

Lil Sis said...

So would my kids like it? I don't really see my kids "understanding" since for some of them having a baby (or two) before age 16 is a badge of honor. Sigh. :( I don't know if they would understand why the girl would freak and dump the baby.

Wendy said...

LoriK: Thank you for explaining all of that. It really helps! It also confirms that the author really did, indeed, do her homework. There's a moment in the story where her lawyer tells Devon that she has to be on her best behavior. She has to keep earning privileges at the detention facility. Because that, in turn, will show the judge that she can be "rehabilitated" and her case should stay in the juvenile court system.

Lil' Sis: If you were still teaching in Florida, I would say get this book for your classroom. But your current students? Yeah, not so sure. I'm not sure they'd "understand" why Devon was so freaked out that she literally did not admit her pregnancy to herself. I'm not sure they'd see her reasons as being a "big deal."

I'll talk to you about it on the phone in detail though. You may want to read it. I thought the author did a very good job handling the subject matter, and it might be one you want to recommend to your teaching buds back in Flordia.....

Sarah said...

I've been anxiously awaiting this book because of the reviews and because where I work as a teen librarian, teen pregnancy is a skyrocketing issue. I really feel like this is a book that could be used as a tool to at least start a conversation about teen pregnancy. I haven't read it yet, but I'm very interested in how the author handles this topic. Especially in light of the fact that many states have laws that say you can leave babies at hospitals, with no repercussions.

azteclady said...

Non-book related: Wendy, where are you, relative to the fires?

Keep yourselves safe!

Wendy said...

Sarah: It's definitely worth checking out. I thought the author handled the subject well, without being preachy, and it's the type of book that could open up dialogue and discussion.

AL: I was actually thinking about doing an "all's well" post tomorrow :) I'm well south of the fires and we haven't even had smoke (yet). I checked in with the other So. Cal. Bloggers via e-mail, and none of them are in the fire's path, but some of them are dealing with really shitty air quality right now. But everybody IS safe.....

azteclady said...

Thank you--please do keep us posted. We worry!

joykenn said...

Yes, Wendy, definitely do a post about the fires. Those of us who've been reading the blog for a while remember when you guys had to evacuate and the pictures you posted of burn areas nearby. There are some times (not generally in mid-Feb when we're buried in snow) when I'm glad I live in the Midwest. (Today is beautiful, not a cloud in the sky and marvelously cool with everything green.)

sybil said...

Oh good I am blameless on this one. And yes do a post, was gonna call you.