Abortion in YA Literature: Beyond the Issues, a guest post by Hilary T. Smith
There have been many recent articles written suggesting that sex in YA literature is the last taboo. I, however, would argue that just as it is in the real world, abortion remains the last taboo in YA literature. Which isn’t surprising when you consider it is the last taboo in almost all of main stream media. Although statistics indicate that by the time they are 45 one in four women will have an abortion, you can probably count on both of your hands the number of tv shows, movies and books that mention abortion. Even fewer still where the main character not only considers an abortion but goes through with the procedure. But Hilary T. Smith has written one, a YA book where a teenager not only contemplates having an abortion, but follows through with the procedure. A Sense of the Infinite is not, however, a book about abortion. It is a book where a main character goes through the process of living her life and one of the vignettes of her life includes having an abortion. A Sense of the Infinite is, in fact, primarily about relationships and finding yourself. It also is about body image issues, sexual violence and consent, eating disorders, art, and trying to figure out what to do after you graduate high school. It’s about coming of age.
Here today to talk with us about issues in YA novels is author Hilary T. Smith . . .
One of the most important processes that takes place during adolescence and young adulthood is developing a sense of compassion. Our parents all communicate biases to us, whether they intend to or not: “homeless people are bad” or “other races are scary” or “girls who do that are going to hell.” These biases can prepare us to react with contempt, horror, or hostility when we meet someone who belongs to one of these categories. But the freedom of adolescence also gives us an opportunity to grow beyond these biases and develop a sense of shared humanity instead.
A big part of this growth process can happen just by chance encounters with people you previously saw as “the other”—your first conversation with a homeless person, an ex-convict, a pole dancer, or a refugee. Or it can take place when friends and family members reveal things about themselves that force you to reconsider your judgements and decide that you can love a person who belongs to the forbidden category.
But if you don’t have these encounters—if you never spend a six-hour Greyhound ride chatting with a girl your age who just had an abortion, or share a Starbucks shift with a boy your religion told you to hate, or become best friends with a person who grew up in dramatically different circumstances than you—there’s a chance you’ll carry those biases into adulthood.
Books are one way of giving teens those encounters, and encouraging the resulting sense of compassion to flower.
For me, writing a novel with an abortion thread was not about presenting an “issue” to be debated, but about making the world a safer, saner, and more compassionate place for all readers. Books about abortion, mental illness, and similar topics are not only for readers who are experiencing these situations themselves; they help us all awaken to our shared humanity, and go forward with greater wisdom, gentleness, and love.
About A SENSE OF THE INFINITE:
By the author of the critically acclaimed Wild Awake, a beautiful coming-of-age story about deep friendship, the weight of secrets, and the healing power of nature.
It’s senior year of high school, and Annabeth is ready—ready for everything she and her best friend, Noe, have been planning and dreaming. But there are some things Annabeth isn’t prepared for, like the constant presence of Noe’s new boyfriend. Like how her relationship with her mom is wearing and fraying. And like the way the secret she’s been keeping hidden deep inside her for years has started clawing at her insides, making it hard to eat or even breathe.
But most especially, she isn’t prepared to lose Noe.
For years, Noe has anchored Annabeth and set their joint path. Now Noe is drifting in another direction, making new plans and dreams that don’t involve Annabeth. Without Noe’s constant companionship, Annabeth’s world begins to crumble. But as a chain of events pulls Annabeth further and further away from Noe, she finds herself closer and closer to discovering who she’s really meant to be—with her best friend or without.
Hilary T. Smith’s second novel is a gorgeously written meditation on identity, loss, and the bonds of friendship.
Published May 19th by Katherine Tegen Books
A Sense of the Infinite is a true coming of age novel, there’s not a lot of plot but there is a lot of thinking and growing and figuring out who you are and where you fit into this world. It’s about friendship, finding it, losing it, and finding it again, though maybe with different people. It’s about mothers and daughters, this relationship complicated by the fact that Annabeth learns that she is a child born out of a college date rape. This news leaves Annabeth reeling with a sense of shame and insecurity that colors her entire view of self. It’s about love and hope and forgiveness. There is as we mentioned an abortion and it occurs without a lot of shame and guilt, a point of view we don’t often see in current discussions about abortion though statistics indicate that many people do in fact feel nothing but relief in terminating their unwanted or complicated pregnancies. It’s also about eating disorders, a subject that is handled well. But in the end, it’s really a moving portrait of Annabeth trying to find out who she really is and how she can move forward in ways after high school that will help her be happy and fulfilled. It’s a lot of heavy subject matter packed into the pages of a book, but in the end we find that Annabeth just might learn not only to love herself, but that she really is loved by the people around her. It is this look at relationships of all sorts that really make A Sense of the Infinite soar.
More Posts on Reproductive Rights at Teen Librarian Toolbox:
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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