Saturday, September 3, 2011

In Trouble

In Trouble by Ellen Levine
Carolrhoda Lab, 2011
198 pages
YA; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Some spoilers although I don't think knowing them will ruin your enjoyment.

This book is kind of tricky to review because it looks at abortion during the 1950s, when abortion was very much illegal in the United States but is been read by a 21st century audience where abortion is still very controversial if technically legal (according to the author's note, 87% of US counties are effectively denied the choice because there is no doctor willing to perform the procedure).  I was hoping for a fairly impartial (meaning not strongly for or against abortion) book. Other reviews I've read thought it was very pro-abortion; I thought it leaned in that direction but was not as blatant as others thought.

What it is in support of though is choice. There are two girls (and I say girl because they're only sixteen) who get "in trouble" during the course of the book and their actions after their pregnancies are revealed. One girl is Elaine, who slept with her boyfriend without a condom because he said that it would show she loved him. After she realizes her pregnancy, he ignores her and her parents take control, telling her what she is going to do, keeping her hidden from the outside world, and denying Elaine any choice in the matter. Elaine is sent to a home, where her baby is given up for adoption, leaving Elaine feeling bereft.

The main character Jamie has a different story. She was raped before the book starts and hopes that nothing will result of it. Even before she knows she's pregnant, she's thinking about the options open to a young girl because she sees Elaine's situation; she knows about the whispers that follow a "fallen" "slut" and she dreams about college and a career. Luckily for Jamie, she has a supportive family who listen to what she wants and help her implement her choice.

But the book is not all about pregnancy and abortion. Jamie is a writer who loves movies and several scenes are presented in a movie script typeface, showing how she has to separate herself from the events (for example, her rape is presented in this format). Although Jamie is not the easiest character to get to know, I fell for her straightforwardness and her worries about growing-up.

While I enjoyed reading all of the above, especially because the chapters were short and the prose was to the point, I was disappointed with the historical setting. Jamie's father is a political prisoner, having been denounced as a Communist; this is explored a little but not enough for my taste. And the book is set in the 1950s but not enough is made of that setting. Except for the teenage characters' innocence and the lack of computers/cell phones, it felt very contemporary.

Overall: Recommended with a caveat about the rape scene for those who may be sensitive to such.

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