One thing I love about reading is that I can step inside the mind of someone in a situation I will never know about and experience it. In some instances, this gives me an objective view, while in others, it’s clear how the author or the character wants you to feel.
Amy Efaw, in After, does an incredible job of making you swing all over the place in your feelings on a very sensitive topic.
Devon made a mistake. Rather than seek help or come to terms with it, she dissociates. She is so far removed from herself and her actions that she doesn’t give her actions a second thought. One night of fun led to this pregnancy, but nine months of hiding it and removing herself from it brought her to dispose of the child — IT — without a second thought for consequences.
After follows the days after Devon, a straight-A soccer star, disposes of her baby in the trash. It sounds horrifically gruesome, and while the story does present the gory facts, what Efaw does is build a character that readers continue to question. I can’t explain the number of times I felt sorry for Devon or believed that she might be, believe it or not, an innocent person. Unlike most books which follow a typical arc in their development, beginning with characters, then rising action, then a climax, then the falling action, then the conclusion, Efaw begins at the climax and works downward. This makes for the powerful character development and the total blast to the reader in terms of character sympathy.
What impressed me most about After was how well researched it was. Efaw leaves an author’s note at the end about her research into the dumpster baby phenomenon, as well as about her research on juvenile institutions. Clearly she knew a thing or two, too, about the medical world and about the psychology of individuals in tough situations. But what made all of this best, of course, was how lucidly and well she wrote the story. It’s not prescriptive, per say, nor is it over the top. Instead, it’s powerful and moving for the reader because of the situation and because of how Devon is both likable and hateable. Maybe more than anything, she’s relatable, whether or not readers have been in her precise situation.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this book for anyone 15 or older. It’s not just about the teen pregnancy issue, either. The lessons about actions and consequences is important, and I think Efaw does a huge service in portraying a “normal” girl in such awful situations. The media and our greater world portray these incidents as things that happen in isolation or with “bad people.” Efaw highlights that these things can happen to anyone. This is entirely refreshing … and alarming/awakening.
After is not a fast read. It took me a week because it is intense. I was never repulsed, but the issue is so heavy and dealt with through such integrity that it just required a lot of time to sink in. I needed to think about Devon and about her mother, the baby, her lawyer, and the situation as a whole. My conclusions about Devon ended up being matched well, but it really took me a lot of time to figure out how I felt about her. But the book itself? Efaw earns high marks from me, and I definitely cannot wait to see what she writes next. I’m almost hoping it takes her another 5 years to put out a book because she did so expertly research this one. It’s a refreshing change from a lot of recent teen books that seem rushed, under researched, and perhaps unrealistic. This one, though? Powerful.