Monday, January 17, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'After'

The Book: After

The Author: Amy Efaw

How I Found It: I... honestly don't remember! It was probably a combination of browsing YA novels and my interest in books dealing with teen pregnancy. This one had won awards and gotten praise, so I decided to look into it. Many thanks to my local library.

The Review: Devon Davenport is a model student--Straight A's, an almost guaranteed future of playing soccer at a Division I school, training hopeful kids to be goalkeepers like her, babysitting for neighbors. In fact, she's everything her mother, only a teenager when she gave birth to Devon, isn't. Her mother, flirty and immature, even gave her the middle name Sky, hoping to impress upon Devon the potential she has to reach what she herself never could.

It's a shock, then, to everyone, when Devon is found by her mother and two policemen covered in blood, having recently given birth to an baby that was found in a trash can by a neighbor. Devon is sent to a juvenile detention center to await the declination hearing that will determine whether or not her case will be tried in adult or juvenile court.

Her attorney, Dom, works to get Devon to open up and tell her the story--what could have possibly motivated her to leave her baby in the trash to die? Things become more complex when Devon claims that she never knew she was pregnant. Is it possible to be in denial so deep that the only solution to an unplanned pregnancy is an attempt to kill the baby?

While I think Amy Efaw did very well writing in prose that reflects Devon's dissociated state, I felt that the novel took far too long to get going. One would think that the meat of the story would be the trial after the declination hearing, but the declination hearing is actually the climax, and it doesn't occur until the last hundred or so pages. Instead, most of the book revolves around Devon's experiences with the other residents in the detention center. I understood what Efaw wanted to accomplish by showing this, but mostly, it just bored me, because it was the same standard fare. (Specifically, the one patient we see the most of is a girl from a wealthy family whose parents have given up on her, so she self-harms to deal with it.) We never hear about what crimes led the other girls to the detention center, most likely because they're not allowed to discuss it, but still, if you're going to spend so much time on showing them to me, I'd like to know more about what's going on under the surface.

The writing really does make you believe in Devon's varying levels of consciousness throughout its events. We get a sense of her dissociation in the opening scenes and in the birth of her child, her denial during the time of her pregnancy, her growing understanding of her deed during the declination hearing. Devon is often disoriented, confused, or unwilling to pay attention, and it felt like an accurate depiction of denial, dissociation, and its aftermath, from what I've heard of the condition.

I don't know what it ultimately was that led to me thinking that the book was just okay. I felt some small amount of sympathy for Devon until the declination hearing. Her reasons for being in denial about her pregnancy, mainly stemming from her difficult relationship with her mother, were realistic. However, the reveal of her true emotions during the night of the birth really turned me off and made me lose the little amount of sympathy I'd had for her. I'm not sure if this is a common reaction or if I'm just weird, but it's how I ended up feeling, and it severely impacted my view of the last one hundred pages.

I think I was expecting more from the premise, although I don't know why. Maybe I was expecting more of a legal drama. Maybe I was expecting a deeper bond between Dom and Devon, or at least more depth to Dom's character, who I never really connected to. The ultimate outcome of the novel felt marginally satisfying, but there was just some part of me that wanted there to be more to it. Less of Devon's experiences with the other inmates, maybe, and instead an increased focus on how the people in her life felt about her actions. We got a brief glimpse during the hearing, but I would have liked to see a more thorough explanation of their feelings. I was especially disappointed that we didn't hear more from Kait, Devon's best friend. Devon was supposed to have lost touch with her during the pregnancy, something Kait was allegedly hurt about, but she's one of the people who writes a letter to testify to Devon's good character during the hearing. Why didn't we see that letter? Why did Kait still care enough about Devon to try and help her when Devon had pulled away from her and done something horribly wrong? We'll never know.

Overall, while the prose succeeded in making me believe in Devon's denial, I never truly felt that the story was a thorough explanation of all the details, and I would have preferred less focus on the other inmates and Devon's life in the center and more focus on the emotions of those in her personal life. I wouldn't give it to anyone younger than 15; all the gory details of childbirth and its aftermath are included. It's a good try, but I can only give it a weak recommendation, and only to those interested in the subject matter.

1 comment:

  1. I hate when books leave me feeling the way this one did you. It's never fun reading a book then feeling somewhat unfulfilled.
    This book sounds KIND OF interesting so I may read it at some point. Who knows.
    Either way, great review!