After by Amy Efaw

‘”Sit up straight, ok?  Look the judge right in the eyes when he speaks to you.  You’re going to be nervous, don’t think that you’re not.'”

Devon is just a few months shy of her sixteenth birthday.  She’s an honor student, a soccer star, and has always sworn that she would grow up and be nothing like her mother.

Then it all falls apart.

She didn’t even know she was pregnant.  All of a sudden, it seemed to her, she was lying in the bathroom, with blood everywhere and more pain than she had ever felt before.  And IT was there, a screaming, crying, living representation of her failure.  Who wouldn’t panic?

When a neighbor finds the baby in a trash can, Devon’s perfect world is shattered.  Her advanced classes are replaced with with institutional meals in juvenile detention, state soccer matches with court dates.  Meetings with lawyers, psychiatrists, and other authorities fill her spare time.  Devon transforms, too: from a young woman shrouded in fear and denial, to a person capable of facing her actions.

Efaw uses lots of details; her close observations permeate the book and make the reader feel intimately involved in the story.  The story, because it is told from Devon’s perspective (not in first person, but it’s an omniscient narrator) begins in a very vague, confused way.  It’s a direct reflection of Devon’s state of mind:  she has suffered a severe blood loss, and is in shock.  As the story progresses, she takes more and more responsibility for what happened.  As she does so, the descriptions and details become clearer and clearer.  It’s a great technique and it elevates this novel from what could be a sensational story about a pregnant teen, into something more literary.  I finished this book in a day; I just didn’t want to put it down.

Happy Reading!

Efaw, Amy. After. Viking: New York, 2009. 350 pp.  Grades 9-12.

Author’s website:

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

“Have you ever

had so much to say

that your mouth closed up tight,

struggling to harness the nuclear force

coalescing within your words?”

Here’s a change of pace from what I normally review.  This is Ellen Hopkins’ semi-autobiograhical account of a young woman’s descent into drug addiction, and all the usual accompanying miseries.  Kristina is a 16-year old high-schooler, a good student who has a fairly close relationship with her mother.  She spends three weeks over the summer visiting her father, where she gets involved with an older boy…and drugs.

Things go downhill from there, as Kristina struggles with a growing addiction, keeping up with school, and family fights as her mother and stepfather fear for her safety and health.  An unexpected pregnancy leaves her reeling with the implications of her lifestyle, and forces her to make some tough decisions.

This is a tough, gripping book.  The genius of it is that it is written entirely in verse.  Now, don’t think “dead white guy poetry…SNORE” when you hear verse.  That’s not this novel at all.  Ellen Hopkins uses the poetry to pack the most emotion possible into a single phrase, and arranges the words meticulously on the page, so that each poem can be read in several different ways.  I’ve never seen anything like it before.  Even though it’s technically poetry, the story holds you so tightly in its clutches that you don’t ever stop to consider that it’s in verse.  That said, it’s excellent poetry, and each single poem can stand on its own.  Another benefit, and the reason why it was chosen by the ALA as a Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, is that the verse format speeds things along:  with a gripping story and few words, before you know it, you’ve finished a 500-page novel.  Awesome.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Hopkins, Ellen.  Crank. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.  537 pp. Ages 15 and up (explicit drug use, sexual situations).

If you liked this book, Ellen Hopkins has two sequels, Fallout and Glass.  She’s a prolific writer, and you will probably enjoy all of her other books.  If the verse form wasn’t your thing, try the classic Go Ask Alice, written by an anonymous author.  (Do a title search, rather than an author search in your library’s website). Enjoy!

A note to parents:  I have heard some criticism of books discussing these tough topics, such as drug abuse or sex.  Some people are concerned that these types of books can glamorize the highs and overlook the consequences, but that doesn’t apply to this book.  For every poem Kristina shares about being high, there is another one describing the crushing lows, where she is physically ill from withdrawal and in the depths of depression.