Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Review: After

Amy Efaw
2009; Viking; 978-0-670-01183-4 (hardcover)

Summary: Devon seems to be a perfect teen. Straight-A student, excellent soccer player, responsible and dedicated: that's who she is. Devon is not the kind of girl to throw her baby in a dumpster. But that's just what this fifteen-year-old is accused of. Why did she do it? What lead to this action? How could anyone do that? Everyone's asking these questions and more--including Devon. As she slowly learns the answers, Devon must also move through the criminal justice system, hoping that her case won't be moved from to an adult courtroom from the juvenile system.

Three Things to Know About After

#1: Learn for yourself.

It takes Devon several days to unravel the tangle of her actions and memories. As she slowly works out just what happened to her, the reader is taken on the same journey. Devon's initial confusion and disconnect from reality is so profound that you can't help feeling frustrated on her behalf. Why don't people see that clearly this is a psychological root to Devon's actions? But as Devon enters Remann Hall, a juvenile detention facility, she does begin to receive some help. More importantly, she learns how to figure out this problem, rather than someone solving it for her. Such a skill is crucial for a teenager to learn; Devon learns this lesson the hard way.

#2: The mind is very powerful.

Devon works through the fog of her memories over the last nine months, as it is slowly revealed that she was in denial over her condition. Determined not to be like her impulsive, uneducated mother, Devon worked hard in order to succeed. When she impulsively sleeps with a boy she's just met--the kind of action her mother has taken in the past--she is desperate to forget it happened. Devon ignores the boy, ignores the unprotected sex they had, and then ignores the physical symptoms that indicate pregnancy. After all, if Devon denies to herself that she had sex, she couldn't possibly be pregnant. It shows how the mind can allow you to ignore anything you don't want to see, anything you can't handle.

#3: Fiction is colored by your own experiences.

In the author's note, Amy Efaw refers to some famous examples of the dumpster baby phenomenon. I came to this book with my own viewpoint on this societal problem: I attended the University of Delaware at the same time as Amy Grossberg. Someone on my floor was in a class with her; she lived in a dorm that was only a minute away from my own. When the news broke, our campus was gripped by this tragic story. At the time, I didn't have much sympathy for Amy or belief in her statements. I said that with a branch of Planned Parenthood only three blocks from her dorm, there was little excuse for killing your baby. But now, after reading this novel, I think I have a better understanding of Amy Grossberg, Melissa Drexler, and all those other teenage mothers. In the stress and emotion of the aftermath of delivery, these young women made a horribly wrong decision. Coming to this realization was surprising, and a testament to the quality of the writing in this novel.

A haunting look at one teen's journey towards redemption, After is precisely constructed. You feel like every single word has been carefully chosen. From the sharp, no-nonsense individuals like Dom and Henrietta, to the flighty, self-motivated ones like Karma and Devon's mother, each character is fully-realized and very believable. And in the middle is Devon, who begins as a confused, lost girl and slowly becomes stronger and healthier as the book progresses. Recommend this strong novel to readers who enjoyed Christina Meldrum's Madapple.

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