Wednesday, January 14, 2015

1971 and Not So Different from Now

I just read Love and Haight, a recent YA novel set in 1971–1972 San Francisco. Chloe is a teenager, hopefully college-bound—and pregnant. She's come to San Francisco to get an abortion, as California is one of the few places in the US where abortions were legal at the time.

My full review is here, but I want to pull out something specific from the book here—something that reminded me of another book, Every Little Thing in the World. Warning, if you haven't read them: significant spoilers ahead.

The two books have a lot of similarities. Although Love and Haight is set in the early 70s and Every Little Thing in the World is contemporary, they were published only two years apart (2012 and 2010, respectively). In each book, the teenage protagonist is pregnant and trying to figure out what to do. (Chloe knows more or less from the outset, although it's a decision she struggles with; in Every Little Thing, Sydney is not as sure, but it's pretty clear which way she's leaning.) Both protagonists are on journeys, Chloe to San Francisco and Sydney on a summer wilderness programme. Both are pregnant by a 'wrong' boy. Ultimately, neither protagonist can proceed with the abortion she seeks without the help of her mother. And finally, both books end with, or immediately after, the abortion.

It's those last two points that interest me—the mother's last-minute entrance and the choice not to go beyond the abortion. At a guess, they come down to the same thing: Abortion is a touchy subject in fiction, and especially in fiction marketed at youth. Bringing a parent in to help out acts as a reminder (intentional or not) that teens don't have to go through difficult things alone and should be comfortable reaching out to trusted adults for help. (I will note, however, that leaving the parent-finding-out bit for the very end makes it pretty obvious how the parent will react—there just isn't space by that point for added complications.) Love and Haight in particular reinforced the idea of the decision being Chloe's and other characters (ultimately) supporting her whether or not they agree with her decision. Offhand, I don't know of any YA books where the character has an abortion without her parents knowing (which is not, of course, to say that those books don't exist), but I imagine it's a 'safer' choice, from a publishing perspective, to have the parents play a role, if only at the very end.

And then timing. This, too, feels as though it comes down to risk. Both Chloe and Sydney know that it isn't quite over when it's over, but they're also both relieved to put an end to their pregnancies. Neither book examines impact beyond that. It's an understandable place to be cautious—no experience is universal, and letting things play out further would be making another political statement, intentional or not. If Sydney regretted her decision (whether or not she ultimately came to terms with it), how would readers/reviewers react? What if Chloe never struggled with it after the fact?

To be perfectly clear, I'm not suggesting that either author should have done something else. It's just interesting to note the plots' similarities and to speculate on possible broader reasons for those similarities. It will also be interesting to see how the treatment of abortion in YA fiction evolves over the coming years.

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