Book Review: Girls on the Verge by Sharon Biggs Waller
A powerful, timely coming-of-age story about a young woman from Texas who goes on a road trip with two friends to get an abortion, from award-winning author Sharon Biggs Waller.
Camille couldn’t be having a better summer. But on the very night she learns she got into a prestigious theater program, she also finds out she’s pregnant. She definitely can’t tell her parents. And her best friend, Bea, doesn’t agree with the decision Camille has made.
Camille is forced to try to solve her problem alone . . . and the system is very much working against her. At her most vulnerable, Camille reaches out to Annabelle Ponsonby, a girl she only barely knows from the theater. Happily, Annabelle agrees to drive her wherever she needs to go. And in a last-minute change of heart, Bea decides to come with.
Girls on the Verge is an incredibly timely novel about a woman’s right to choose. Sharon Biggs Waller brings to life a narrative that has to continue to fight for its right to be told, and honored.
In November of 2016 when they announced that Donald Trump would be our new president I, like many women, went out and bought a supply of Plan B to keep on hand. Fast forward to the year 2019 and access to abortion and to some extent even birth control is very much being challenged. And this is most definitely the case in the state of Texas, where I live, work and raise two daughters who may have a genetic predisposition to a life threatening pregnancy condition called Hyperemesis Gravidarum, the very pregnancy condition that threatened my life and forced my husband and I to access abortion services to end a failing pregnancy and save my life. The fundamental right to full bodily autonomy and to make one’s own medical decisions is a topic that I feel strongly about; I am glad that novels that tackle the topic of abortion head on that are written by people who care about teens are being written, especially at a time when reproductive justice is being threatened.
Abortion is a topic that doesn’t come up often in YA literature, although it has and does occasionally appear. In Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Jonston, a teen girl who is raped finds herself pregnant and terminates her pregnancy with no shame or regrets. In The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu, a teen who is forced to protest abortion with her conservative mother has an abortion before she joins her pro-life parents on the picket line. Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin, The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas and What Girls are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold are just a few of the 59 titles mentioned on a Goodreads list of YA titles that deal with the topic of abortion. Out of the 1,000s of YA novels written, this is a very low number of titles.
Girls on the Verge is a no holds barred look not only at abortion, but at the difficulties one teen in the state of Texas has in trying to access an abortion. Her mind made up, it’s not so much about the will she or won’t she, but the how of it. Camille takes a road trip that involves a fake abortion clinic that wants to pray and counsel the teen, a court appearance to try and obtain the right to an abortion without parental consent by a judge who forces his own personal convictions on the teen, and a quest to find abortion pills. Currently living in the state of Texas, this entire journey felt real. And along the way, there is a lot of rich and meaningful conversation about what it means to be female and female friendship that happens in that car. I loved and valued the conversations that these girls had.
This is a controversial subject and I felt that Waller handled every aspect of it so well. Camille is pretty sure of her decision and doesn’t feel a weight-load of guilt, a point of view that isn’t often presented when we talk about the topic of abortion in any form of media let alone YA literature. She is very well supported by one female companion and is somewhat supported by her lifelong best friend who has personal moral objections to Camille’s decision, but also chooses to support her friend so that she doesn’t have to go through this alone. The discussion is meaningful, rich and, I think, important. Each teen is challenged in various ways and the reader gets a lot of insight into their lives and thoughts.
The characters are deeply drawn and readers will be invested in them, but more than anything this is a timely and important novel about the topic of reproductive justice and the current challenges to it that anyone with a uterus faces. Waller shares resources and a personal note that explains why she felt it is important that this novel and novels like it get written. Highly recommended.
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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