A film noir atmosphere weaves through this unabashedly political novel that addresses issues of abortion and free speech. Levine (Henry’s Freedom Box) evokes nostalgia for an era of multigenerational families living together, Automats, soda fountains, and Bogart films, while emphasizing the power wielded by social taboos. Sixteen-year-old Jamie tells the parallel stories of two teenage pregnancies in McCarthy-era New York City and her father’s recent imprisonment for political activism. In a first-person narrative that focuses on Jamie’s feelings of helplessness and anger, she reports occasional thoughts or memories that frighten her as if writing a screenplay: “Tight close-up on striped shirt with bull’s-eye on back.” When her friend Elaine gets pregnant by her boyfriend, she imagines they will get married, though Elaine’s ashamed Catholic parents have other ideas. Jamie’s pregnancy results from a violent rape; terrified of confiding in her family, she attempts various “remedies,” such as drinking vodka and throwing herself down the stairs. Encouraging historical awareness and personal empowerment, an author’s note compares 1956 attitudes about women and abortion with the present, noting that obtaining a legal abortion has become increasingly difficult. A gripping, relevant read. Ages 12–up.
Seventeen-year-old Elaine becomes pregnant in the 1950’s during a time when girls are blamed for the pregnancy. The guys were rarely even thought of and the girl was usually slapped with labels such as: slut, whore, loose woman, and considered dirty. In typical fashion from that era, Elaine’s parents force her to sign documents to turn the baby over to Catholic Children’s Services when the baby is born although Elaine wants to marry Neil and keep the baby. Her best friend Jamie is raped by a friend of a cousin who takes her to a wine tasting party and although asked to “stop” many times over, he didn’t. How the parents of these girls handled their pregnancies were quite different.
Abortion was illegal and often time girls would try to end the pregnancy themselves, at times ending up bleeding to death or doing so much harm to themselves as to prevent any further pregnancies in the future and carrying a baby to full term.
Ellen Levine has penned a novel about a very delicate subject during a delicate time in history and I would encourage all young girls and guys between the ages of 12 and 18 to read it. It also makes for good reading for parents as well.