Forced abortion, wrong attitudes about sex, dysfunctional family, yet an atypical teen novel.
While this may seem to be a typical teen abortion novel, Williams-Garcia’s take on a dysfunctional African-American family includes many atypical elements. For example, Gayle is forced into abortion, which is typical of many fourteen-year-olds whose mothers think that having a baby is the end of their daughters’ lives, yet the integrity of the family unit is maintained (kinda sorta like kinda) at novel’s end, which was atypical of African-American families in 1995 and even more so now in 2020.
Overall, however, the novel is typical for teens who want to read about abortion, sex, and family dysfunction.
The balance of this review will collate elements of the novel into the five questions of right-to-life literary theory.
First, does the literary work support the perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some “thing” which is priceless? The answer to this question must remain ambiguous, although various statements from characters suggest that human life is more drudgery than joy.
Second, does the literary work respect the individual as a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life? There is little evidence to support a positive answer to this question. Perhaps the best evidence to show that characters in this novel respect human life is the great-grandmother’s rehearsal of the family’s history since slavery times. The narration of “who begat whom” at novel’s end is a life-affirming technique, one which Gayle appreciates after 195 pages of trying to understand what a family means.
Third, if the literary work covers the actions of a family, does it do so respecting heterosexual normativity and the integrity of the family? Excepting the Georgia faction of her family, Gayle has little idea of what constitutes a normal heterosexual family. Her father is dead. Her mother struggles to maintain a household of two children. Gayle’s eighteen-year-old brother is content to be lazy. Gayle herself seems to have no idea that sexual activity is meant for a marital covenant; she must think sex is something to do to have fun or a means to while away an afternoon.
Fourth, does the literary work comport with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist? Obviously not on the part of Gayle’s mother, who forces her into abortion because she considers her unborn grandchild a “mistake” (3). Nor is it obvious on Gayle’s part. Although fourteen, she could have resisted her mother’s effort to force her into abortion; the author describes her capability in physically fighting with her mother, so Gayle could have escaped her mother’s clutches.
Moreover, Gayle’s claim that she “went along with the abortion because she could always have another baby” just makes her more complicit in the abortion. Besides that, her claim shows that she has no respect for each individual human life, thinking that the child aborted was somehow “replaceable” (20-21).
The characters’ attitudes about sex are even more backward: Gayle treats sex as a mere casual activity, and her uptight Christian cousin Cookie thinks of it as sinful. No character evinces the idea that sex is a natural activity given by God for the delight of spouses for their pleasure and for the procreation of children. Thus, no Theology of the Body in this novel; the characters are stuck in the mindset of sex the way the abortion business Planned Parenthood thinks of it.
Fifth, when they are faced with their mortality, do the characters come to a realization that there is a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective? The great-grandmother, who is on her deathbed, is genuinely aware of religious tenets which guide human life. Otherwise, the characters are either hostile to Christianity or at least the Protestant version of it (Gayle), ignorant of its teachings (Gayle again), or hypocritical (Gayle’s uncle, a dour and angry minister).
One item in the novel is unrealistic. The narrator identifies a woman at the abortion clinic who wears a “RESPECT LIFE” pin (7; all caps in original). How is it possible that someone wearing such a pin would work in an abortion clinic? That’s like saying someone with a “Trump for President” button would attend a rally of the racist organization Black Lives Matter.
Despite this and maybe other faults, a cultural critic or African-American activist working for the integrity of the traditional family (like Ben Carson or Candace Owens) would be able to cite this novel as more evidence, not only of the unfortunate state of the African-American family during the horrendous Clinton years, but also of the even sadder condition of African-American families under the Obama reign/dictatorship.
While this novel is dated, it can help contemporary readers understand the disastrous effects of an anti-life philosophy on a teenager’s life.