Ever since the death of her father, Genesis has had to take on more than the average seventeen-about-to-turn-eighteen girl should have to. When her mother fell into a depression after her father’s death, Genesis took on the responsibility of taking care of her family. She can’t just leave her mother to her grief. But then Genesis gets pregnant. It’s not how she expected her year to go–pregnancy in high school was never her plan. She and her boyfriend, Peter, decide that getting an abortion is the only option for them because they’re seventeen and not ready for a child. After the procedure, Genesis expects to find her boyfriend waiting for her in the lobby of the Planned Parenthood. Instead she discovers that Peter abandoned her there. She’s alone. It’s something that she hasn’t really addressed before.
The girl and her escort have the same wild hair and deep-set eyes. This has to be her mother, and I try to imagine my own mother helping me out, escorting me. But I can’t conjure the faintest image of this. Not anymore.*
What follows is a heartfelt exploration of first loves, friendship, and understanding that your–and others’–actions may not be so black and white.
While Aftercare Instructions puts an abortion at the forefront of the novel–and indeed the opening scene takes place at the clinic–it’s very decisively after: it focuses on what Genesis is going through after the abortion and after the realization that her boyfriend has abandoned her. She needs to learn how to move on from both events and figure out how they’re going to change her. Genesis doesn’t always address everything, but since the chapter titles deal with aftercare and details about what your body goes through after an abortion, the reader is constantly reminded of where the novel started and what Genesis will eventually have to come to terms with.
I thought that Bonnie Pipkin did a good job of showing Genesis’ processing; she goes through an array of emotions from betrayal, to second guessing, to wanting to forget, all while trying to hold herself and her family together. She’s very much a girl who thinks that she has to keep it to herself to protect others, even her best friend. I think there’s an important release when she’s able to confide in others. I also think it’s equally important that she wasn’t shamed for having an abortion. Instead we were shown female relationships where there was only concern.
Genesis does not become the Girl that had an Abortion–partially because few people know, but mostly because she doesn’t allow herself to use that as one of her personal definitions. She’s so much more. However, I think the book lost a little bit of its potential because of that.
When I first heard about Aftercare Instructions, I thought that it was going to really focus on the abortion and the after. It gets pushed to the background instead. The fact that Genesis had an abortion is constantly there, but it becomes more about Genesis worrying about her mother. Or a budding friendship/relationship. Or being called out on neglecting friends. It’s about abortion and teen pregnancy, but it’s also not about abortion and teen pregnancy. I feel odd describing it that way, but there’s no other way to explain it. While it’s good to have a book that shows a character learning how to balance her before and after, I did expect that Genesis’ abortion would be in the forefront of her thoughts more than it actually was. The novel was instead about the relationships–friendly, romantic, and familial–and the ins-and-outs of them. As much as I enjoyed the book, it’s tempered by my disappointment that Aftercare Instructions didn’t do something entirely new. I hope that it’s the first of many books that deal with real issues that teens may be going through but aren’t often addressed in literature (that I’ve read). I hope that there’s a trend that starts and gets on my radar.
I agree with another reviewer who said that even though it isn’t entirely focused on this, it still gives young readers–who may be experiencing the same thing–a protagonist who isn’t judged for having an abortion and who has a variety of emotions about what happens after. Aftercare Instructions was written really thoughtfully. In that sense it succeeded in opening up a discussion about abortion. It has the potential to be uncomfortable for some readers, and there was a moment where I got queasy because I’m not good with doctor visits, but I think overall it will be something that is talked about in the book community. A lot of times contemporary novels seem to deal with cotton-candy issues–Will I get into college? Will this friendship last through the struggles of senior year?–instead of things that are labeled as tough. It was refreshing to read something different.
My absolute favorite part of Aftercare Instructions is the unique way that it was given to the reader. It’s prose with sections of a play–Genesis’ before–interspersed throughout. There’s the before and the after, which I thought was a great way to show Genesis and her relationships. When they eventually collide, as all things must, Genesis is forced to reevaluate herself through the lens of the after. I thought it was a very realistic way of dealing with how we can willfully be blind to certain things in our lives. Genesis’ coming of age comes from her tracing her past.
As for the characters themselves, I wish that they had been fleshed out further. I expected more from Genesis because of what she’s going through. Even though the novel is written in first person, I didn’t feel that delved very deep into Gen’s psyche. There were times when I didn’t quite connect with her during emotional moments because I wasn’t given enough meaning. I felt like I was occasionally told how I was meant to be feeling rather than shown. However, I think that Pipkin does do a good job of examining all of the different ways that her choice ripples through her life. Pipkin examines them all in turn.
Another thing I liked about this this novel was how female relationships were portrayed. Although there is a small part that deals with girl-on-girl hate, it isn’t stuck in that position. While there are many female characters in this novel, I didn’t feel that all of them were on equal footing. Some of them existed for Gen to grow in some way, then they disappeared. It does makes sense as this novel is in first person and understandably focused on Gen, but I think there could have been strength in allowing these secondary characters to shine through the page. Instead they’re kind of there in the background, only coming to the foreground when necessary. For example, Rose is Genesis’ best friend, yet she doesn’t appear as much as I would expect, especially with the circumstances in Gen’s life. I understand that there’s some element of healing that Gen needs to go through alone, but it was odd to me that Rose wasn’t in Gen’s life more. I wish that the friendships had been explored more in Aftercare Instructions.
For all of my minor complaints, I felt that Aftercare Instructions was a really engaging novel. I liked the writing style a lot. I thought the choice to have different styles–prose and script–in the novel really showed how people interact with one another, especially when you strip it down to dialogue. Aftercare Instructions took a subject that is oftentimes considered taboo and talked about it in a way that doesn’t judge either way. It’s good to see a book like this in the young adult contemporary genre.
I received a copy of Aftercare Instructions from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Aftercare Instructions will be published on June 27th.
*Quotes are taken from an ARC and subject to change before publication.