*August 11th, 2009 Viking Juvenile
An infant left in the trash to die. A teenage mother who never knew she was pregnant . . .
Before That Morning, these were the words most often used to describe straight-A student and star soccer player Devon Davenport: responsible, hardworking, mature. But all that changes when the police find Devon home sick from school as they investigate the case of an abandoned baby. Soon the connection is made—Devon has just given birth; the baby in the trash is hers. After That Morning, there’s only one way to define Devon: attempted murderer.
Who would do something so terrible? Certainly not someone like Devon—straight-A student, soccer player with Olympic dreams, more mature than her own mother. But desperation and panic drove her to do what most people can’t even imagine. Now Devon ’s in a juvenile detention center charged with attempted murder. If she’s tried as an adult, she faces life in prison.
Does Devon deserve that punishment? Your answer depends on whether you believe her story.
With After, Amy Efaw has created an insightful glimpse into a very real, very tragic event that's repeating itself among today's youth. The media reports incidents of babies abandoned (e.g. in dumpsters or otherwise), and the consequences for the perpetrators, but what about the inciting factors that led this event to take place? What about the motivations that drove these young people to such desperation? This is a difficult subject to deal with, but Efaw does it deftly and insightfully in After.
On the cover, the real Devon and the Devon in the reflection may seem identical; upon closer inspection, the one in the reflection is pregnant. Subtle. And that's what many aspects of After are - subtle. In order to provoke maximum independent, unbiased thought, the story, the characters - everything has to walk a fine line and strike just the right amount of neutrality. In this case, Efaw was successful in generating contemplation.
The tense of this book - present tense, third person - was another subtle touch that got me thinking. This is Devon's story; first person would have provided more intimacy, as there's always an element of removal with third. But then I realized - is this what Efaw wants? A sense of removal from Devon, so that readers can decide for themselves whether "Devon deserve[s] that punishment? Your answer depends on whether you believe her story" (Synopsis). Even so, little details and small quirks endear the audience to Devon regardless. If I had the chance though, I would definitely want to ask Efaw about her choice on tense/perspective.
Characterization of Devon - I would imagine - was a tricky thing to handle. Even intimacy had to be generated to allow the audience to relate to Devon, but enough removal was needed to neutrally judge the situation. For a fair bit of the story, Devon seems a little out of it. But again - is this part of what's needed to complete the story, to create pathos? If so, another brilliant but subtle touch. Characterization in general, especially of the supporting cast, was handled masterfully though. Carefully placed details and quirks added a further realm of depth to the characters. Sure, they weren't always likeable (didn't particularly care for her mother) but more importantly, they were real. And they were credible. It was nice to see Dom outside of the lawyer context. It was interesting to get a first impression of Karma, only to have that change once more was revealed about her past, about her motivations.
"A wise saying from my good friend Anonymous" (Efaw 172).
The various little sayings by "Anonymous" which Karma referred to throughout were an excellent touch. A very unique character quirk. In fact, all the girls at the retention centre, the legal proceedings... these offered a glimpse into a world that we don't typically experience. It offered a breath of fresh air from the shallow guilty pleasures of "literature" that are a common indulgence nowadays. Efaw offers something a little more gritty, a little more raw - but also a little more real - with After. It definitely lends itself to controversial contemplation.
Something about Efaw's writing and diction choices as well - it flows unobtrusively, so as to not get in the way of telling the story. This serves well to augment the severity of the situation, of letting the events here penetrate. The format works excellently in this context. It jumps right into the situation, of Devon being discovered as recently having given birth. And slowly, slowly, the story unravels, the past is revealed, and we find out what happened beforehand with Devon as she begins to remember it herself. Readers aren't some removed party in this sense, sitting back to watch the drama unfurl, knowing either more or less than the main character - nope, here the reader embarks on this journey with Devon together. The flashbacks and present events coincide beautifully.
The subject matter here is definitely hard to take in, hard to digest. But at the same time, this is based on events that are happening for real. Which is why it's important to realize that. In that sense, After is a trailblazer, leading the way in terms of literature regarding dumpster babies in North America. The plot here is something new, something different. It shows the motivations (or perhaps lack thereof) and events leading up to why someone would abandon their baby like that. Oftentimes, we get lost in the post-discovery horror of shocking events; here Efaw offers a glimpse into the psychological aspect of pre-committing the act. The ending - well, I wasn't particularly fond of the way it concluded, but in this case it didn't necessarily affect the overall impact of the story too severely.
Efaw's After is a striking, thought-provoking piece of literature that could well open the eyes of many. I won't subconciously influence you here as to whether or not I'm in agreement with Devon's story. But this is definitely one you should check out - after all, there's only one way to find out whether you think Devon deserved her punishment. Whether you believe Devon's story. Was it all justified?
(Let me know what you think.) More information about Amy Efaw's After can be found on the booksite at After-Book.com. After will be available on August 11th, 2009, from Viking.