Book Review: After by Amy Efaw

Posted August 2, 2013 by Stormy in Books / 6 Comments

After

by Amy Efaw

After

Original Publishing Date: August 11, 2009
Length: 350 pages
Publisher: Viking Juvenile

Obtained Via: Bought
Format Read In: Hardback
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Summary

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.

And yet gifted author Amy Efaw does the impossible. She turns Devon into an empathetic character, a girl who was in such deep denial that she refused to believe she was pregnant. Through airtight writing and fast-paced, gripping storytelling, Ms. Efaw takes the reader on Devon’s unforgettable journey toward clarity, acceptance, and redemption.

My-Review

Fun fact: I don’t really like babies. I never have, really. I’ve had countless jobs in childcare, and I LOVE working with children, but babies are not my thing. When I was little and expressed this sentiment, my family always told me my views would change as I grew up, because this is always the reason I cited for not wanting children of my own. Well, I’m 22, and this view hasn’t changed yet. I still find babies to be. . . creepy. Needy. Basically, you would never want to hire me to be your baby-sitter for a 6 month old. We also know that I’m not the hugest fan of contemporary, and certainly not typically a fan of issue books, so perhaps After was an interesting choice for me to pick up. And yet, something about it compelled me.

I mean, leaving a baby in a trash can. . . it really IS hard to comprehend who could do such a thing. And yet, part of me also says the people who do this–most of them–must not be monsters. They must have reasons, issues, so many things going on in their mind to the point they see discarding a living being as a viable option. It’s fascinating in the saddest sense of the word.

And on that front, After delivers. I found Efaw’s writing to be incredibly strong. It’s clean, without much flourish, but does it ever paint a picture. I felt like I was *THERE* when the story began, in Devon’s living room with her, when everything started to unravel and the horrifying truth was just barely coming to light. It’s been three weeks since I read this book, and I can still remember the opening scene. That is a sign of really vivid writing. Slowly, Efaw delves into Devon’s head to unravel her motives and experiences that led her to place a newborn baby in a dumpster.

This book is moderately paced, and the revelations of Devon’s past come slowly, as she herself remembers things. It becomes clear that Devon’s own accounts of events are fuzzy at best, and while I will say this was frustrating as a reader, it also put me there WITH Devon. I felt her pain, her confusion, more clearly than perhaps I would have liked. Getting into her head was uncomfortable, I’ll admit, but it was also well-done.

That being said, After is not without it’s fault. The main problematic element I see in the book is that so much of After involves setting Devon up as a “good kid”. She’s the nice, hard-working, smart kid who never does anything wrong, which is why it’s so baffling to everyone around her that she ended up in this position. Okay, fine, I can work with that. Maybe there’s some bias there I don’t like, but I understand reality is complex and no one is perfect. What I did have a problem with was in the end, Devon ended up looking pretty perfect from a characterization standpoint while all the other girls were shamed, at least partially.

Because Devon’s the “good kid” and has only has sex once, it sets her up to a be a sympathetic figure, WHILE all the other girls she encounters who have been accused of committing crimes seem to be shamed. I think Efaw worked very hard to combat MANY of the stereotypes and shaming that could accompany a novel of this type, and for the most part she succeeds, but I think in this case it didn’t quite go far enough. She does delve into some of the girl’s motives and makes them more sympathetic, but there’s still a sense that they’re the type of girls who the adults would expect to end up in the position that they did, unlike Devon.

Final Impression: There are a few problematic issues that took away some of this book’s effectiveness for me, but on the whole, I thought it dealt with a really interesting and potentially controversial subject in a way that didn’t glisten over elements but also worked hard to really give the reader insight into Devon’s mind. It’s a hard book to handle at times, and it’s not a book I’ll probably read again, but it’s very well-written and I’d recommend it to readers who like these harder contemporaries. I do wish those problematic issues had been dealt with, because until that came up this was on the road to being a 5 star for me, but it was a little too much in some places to ignore. Still recommend. 4/5 cupcakes.

4cupcakes

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4 Stars

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6 responses to “Book Review: After by Amy Efaw

  1. Eve

    Haha, babies are not really my thing either, but I always die a little when I see my little nephew (who’s technically not a baby, because he’s 2). Still though – taking care of someone else’s kid except for my sister’s? Firm “no”. But dumping a baby in a trash can is inexcusable in my opinion. You got me interested in that book (bravo, because I’m never interested in teenage pregnancies :D), so I think I’ll give it a try and soon. I want to see how the author excuses the lead character’s decision to dump her baby. There’s always another way.

  2. […] Monday I reviewed Promise Me Something, which took me by surprise(in a good way!). Wednesday I reviewed Mind Games, which I had quite a different reaction to. Thursday I kicked off the Different Perspective Theme Read by discussing why I personally like to hear different perspectives. Friday I reviewed After by Amy Efaw. […]

  3. I recently read After too, and you hit the nail on the head. It’s an important book, but it’s uncomfortable. I felt so uncomfortable reading it that I couldn’t write a review of it. I just didn’t know what to say. I did mention it in my post defending Laurie Anderson’s Speak as another book that demonstrates the dangers of internalizing emotions and being unable to discuss your problems with someone.

    • stormydawnc

      Yeah, the review was REALLY hard to write. I almost decided not to write it at all. It’s one of those books I feel the better for having read, but I’m not necessarily sure I’d pick it up again?

  4. While I appreciate that Efaw obviously took the time, care, and attention to make Devon a sympathetic and relatable character against all odds, it’s a shame that this was done at the expense of the other characters, particularly the female characters, in the novel. Characters shouldn’t have to be made admirable in retrospect or only in comparison to someone else – They should be able to stand on their own. While I can certainly appreciate how powerful and thought-provking this novel likely is, I’m not sure it’s the sort of story I would enjoy. While I can understand rationally the impetus for doing something so unthinkable, I’m not sure I would want to be trapped inside the head of such a character, no matter how much I might grow to sympathize with her.

    This was a lovely, insightful review and I very much enjoyed reading it 🙂 Wonderful work!

    • stormydawnc

      I agree. It was *really* well-written, but also uncomfortable to read. I think Efaw took a lot of care with most of the characters, and she did stay away from some of the obvious ways to degrade other characters, but at the same time, Devon was definitely upheld as the “good girl”. Her characterization was much more subtle than some other (rather terrible) books I’ve read concerning teenage pregnancy, but it didn’t quitego far enough as far as having the characters stand on their own.

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