Tuesday, June 30, 2009

After Review

After - Amy Efaw
*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.


Steph Su said...

Wow, great review. The third-person present-tense writing style is hard to swallow at first, but if it's done well, it's fantastic. There's a simultaneous sense of detachment and urgency at the same time. Have you read Willow by Julia Hoban yet? It's got the same style. Might be interesting for you. You've certainly piqued my interest even more for this book. Thanks! :)

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Awesome review. I really want to read this one... I always hear stories like this and other ones and I want to know WHY, so this is great.


Marie said...

Great review. I just got this book last week-

Iryna said...

When I first saw this cover (before your review) I never noticed how the reflection in the mirror is Devon pregnant. Congrats on you noticing that, and whoever designed the cover. Ii looks like it draws into the story very well. Thanks for a well-written review, as usual!

Laina said...

I can't look, I got this today and I want to go into it with a completely open mind. :D

Lexi @ Shifting said...

=D Thanks! I have a new one up now though. lol. I like our website also. The background is beautiful in itself but then the website makes it stant out. :)

Anonymous said...

Amazing review! I like books on difficult subjects - this is definitely one - that forces you to look on the other side of the story. I added this to my TBR list right away!

deltay said...

Steph - Thanks! Definitely agree; especially since in this day and age we seem to lean towards the innovative. No, I actually haven't read Julia Hoban's Willow yet, but I've been meaning to check that out. Heard lots of great things about it. Thanks for the suggestion!

Lauren - Really? I actually hadn't really known about dumpster babies before this. Hope you enjoy it!

Marie - Thanks! Hope you like it as well.

Iryna - haha, I'm not sure if I can actually take all the credit for noticing the cover. I think I noticed around the same time that I saw someone else point it out on a blog; can't seem to remember which came first though (or where it was), unfortunately.

Laina - Going into this with an open mind is always a new adventure! Let me know how it goes :)

Lexi - Aww, thanks :)

Infiniteshelf - haha, I think I'm leaning towards the slightly more controversial these days as well! Thanks =)

ReggieWrites said...

Wow! I so did not notice that the mirror was a pregnant Devon!!! Good eye!...but then again, I am kind of oblivious...haha!

Limerick said...

Wow, this was a brilliant review! I have heard about stories about newborns being left in the most horrible places, which is what makes this book so interesting. It really is talking about things that happen in our world today. I'm glad that the characters seem very realistic. I'd love to get this book. And thanks for the great review!

Shawna said...

Shawna Lewis

Amazing review...this book sounds so good. This happened in our high school about 20 years ago and it was such a big thing because nothing like that had ever happened before in such a small town. Thanks for this review!!!

Leslie said...

wow! this is a brillent review! you know i've actually never read anything like this because i'm scared of the motive... you see this stuff happening more often than not and it's just a little idk just too much i guess. Although it does sound amazing! I always enjoy third person pov and i like that the reader can decide for themselves if she's guilty or not by the way it's written. anyway awesome review! i'm really looking forward to reading this!

Paradox said...

Wow! What a detailed and thoughtful review! I love reading books that make me think and ask questions, so I'll definitely check out After.

WhatBriReads said...

Great review. So much thought put into it. I definitely want to read this book even more now. And I hadn't noticed the differences on the cover until now, either. That's pretty neat.

Anonymous said...

Hi there : )
Why do women and men (society generally) still pre-judge people with tattoos. girls commonly?
I am a twenty six year old F, have 10 tats, most of which can not be spotted on my daily travels. 5 - 6 during the summer are pretty much constantly on display. I do not aim for notice and I have a loving boyfriend WITH NO TATTOOS .I get the impression that a majority of people think that tattooed persons are blind, as we get stared at, even if we return a glance people continue staring. When will society change?

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