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Abortion in YA Lit: A Reading List

Book Riot By Book Riot Published on November 5, 2015

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Originally published on BookRiot by Kelly Jenson

Abortion has been on my mind a lot lately. Part of it is because of the continued efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. While I’m fiercely against this because Planned Parenthood allows access to necessary cancer and healthcare for women who may otherwise go without, I’d also feel this way if Planned Parenthood only provided abortion services. I believe our bodies belong to us and us alone, and as individuals, we are the only ones with the rights to make choices on how we use our bodies.

I’m not interested in arguing about this because I also 100% respect those who choose to believe otherwise and expect that same respect toward my beliefs. You get to make the bodily decisions that impact you. That’s all.

The other reason this topic has been on my mind is because of a piece we ran not long ago about why we need more abortion narratives in our fiction. One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, and it’s a safe, common medical procedure. And abortion isn’t limited to adults: roughly 24 out of every 100 teen pregnancies ends with an abortion, which is approximately 200,000 a year. It’s not a small percentage, and teens — like adults — choose abortion as an option because it’s what they need to do. Their bodies, their choices.

Abortion in YA has been talked about for many years, with many believing it’s sort of the “last taboo” in this category. I disagree, primarily because YA fiction, when done effectively, isn’t about presenting a single problem or issue and letting the story be dictated by that. Good YA isn’t about an abortion; good YA weaves in the decision to have an abortion into a grander narrative with fully-realized characters in a well-developed setting and storyline. In many cases, abortion is a subplot or even a mere chapter or two in a grander novel not because it’s taboo or shameful but because that’s how it operates in real life. It is not that this decision is taken lightly — it is not — but rather, it’s not the definition of the character or his/her entire story. It’s just a part of it.

If it’s been a while, I highly recommend a rewatch of the classic and teen favorite film Dirty Dancing. This might seem like a weird recommendation in a post about YA fiction tackling abortion, but it’s not. This film is such a marvel when it comes to depicting teen lives and experiences. It explores different types of people, different types of financial situations, and different expectations put upon girls depending on their status. One of the subplots involves Baby helping a girl who finds herself pregnant acquire the sort of care and support she needs. It’s well-done, and it’s woven into the film as part of a story. It’s respectful, tasteful, and ultimately reflective of what well-done abortion in YA fiction does. This film has staying power for many reasons, and one is the empathy and love there is towards characters in all sorts of situations, even when the choices they make are not always ones everyone, on camera or off in the audience, agree with.

Here is a big, wide list of YA fiction that incorporates abortion into the story in some capacity. I’ve tried to stick to well-vetted titles, and while I absolutely do not believe abortion in YA requires a spoiler warning, some of these titles are still pretty new or forthcoming and thus, the abortion element may not be well known yet. But perhaps pointing it out not only has merit but also will help girls looking for stories about girls like themselves find comfort, safety, understanding, and acceptance. It’s also worth noting none of these books endorse abortion, and not all of these books include characters who choose to go through the procedure. Rather, these are explorations on reproductive choice with a focus on abortion in some capacity. It’s my hope that this wide range of experiences and decisions helps shed light into the decisions and how they’re not made lightly or thoughtlessly, and more, that they’re made with only the individual having his or her own well-being in mind.

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And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

Senior Paul Wagoner walks into his school with a stolen gun, he threatens his girlfriend, Emily Beam, and then takes his own life. Soon after, angry and guilt-ridden Emily is sent to a boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where two quirky fellow students and the spirit of Emily Dickinson offer helping hands. But it is up to Emily Beam to heal her own damaged self, to find the good behind the bad, hope inside the despair, and springtime under the snow.

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Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney

Big Macs and pop tunes mask the emptiness as Madeline watches her mom drink away their welfare checks. Until the day Tad, a quirky McDonald’s counter boy, asks Madeline out for a date, and she gets her first taste of normal. But with a life thats anything but, how long can normal really last?

Hanging with Jeremy, avoiding Mam, sticking Do Not Disturb Post-its on her heart, Desiree’s mission is simple: party hard, graduate (well, maybe), get out of town. But after Desiree accepts half a meatball grinder, a cold drink, and a ride from her mother’s boyfriend one rainy afternoon, nothing is ever simple again.

Too many AP classes. Workaholic mom. Dad in prison. Still, Ariel’s sultry new boyfriend, Shane, manages to make even the worst days delicious. But when an unexpected phone call forces a trip to visit a sick grandmother she’s never met, revealing her family’s dark past, Ariel struggles to find the courage to make the right choice for her own future.

As three girls from three different decades lives converge, they discover they are connected ways they could never imagine. Each of them finds strength that brings her closer to healing a painful past, and faith that there is a happier future.

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Borrowed Light by Anna Fienberg

Sixteen-year-old Callisto May feels a deep connection to astronomy, but feels completely alone on planet Earth. Now that she’s pregnant, her loneliness is acute. She can’t turn to her mother, her father, or even her surfer boyfriend. Only Callisto’s little brother loves her unfailingly, but she can’t be there for him right now. She’s got to make a huge decision–and that means thinking of herself first.

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Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend by Erika T. Wurth

Margaritte is a sharp-tongued, drug-dealing, sixteen-year-old Native American floundering in a Colorado town crippled by poverty, unemployment, and drug abuse. She hates the burnout, futureless kids surrounding her and dreams that she and her unreliable new boyfriend can move far beyond the bright lights of Denver that float on the horizon before the daily suffocation of teen pregnancy eats her alive.

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Every Little Thing in The World by Nina de Gramont

When sixteen-year-old Sydney Biggs’s pregnancy test shows the tell tale plus sign, she confides in her best friend Natalia, who promptly “borrows” her mother’s car so Sydney can confront the baby’s father. But after the car is reported stolen and police bring the girls home, their parents send them away to wilderness camp as punishment. With six weeks to spend in the wilds of Canada, time is ticking for Sydney, who isn’t sure what she wants to do about the pregnancy. As she befriends her fellow adventure-mates and contends with Natalia’s adamant opinions on the choices available, Sydney realizes that making the right choice can mean very different things.

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Exit, Pursued By A Bear by EK Johnston (Dutton, March 15, 2016)

Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

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Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.