Terrific Teen Tuesday: YA’s Last Taboo

In the United States, while you are reading this, a  teenage girl will make a very difficult decision. This decision is what is best for her, but also, good science suggests, good for society. Somewhere in the world, about every ten seconds (it’s difficult to measure), a teenage girl makes this same decision – a decision that benefits all of us.

These girls range in age from as young as 9 or 10 all the way up to the last teenage year, 19. They come from all backgrounds, all races and religions, all socio-economic levels and yes, despite some restrictive laws, all countries. ALL countries, even places where this decision is illegal.

They have many reasons for making this choice, but no reason is any more justified than another. These girls are entitled to decide what happens to them. Few of them will regret it. Most will not. Some will take a couple of days to recover, physically and emotionally. Many will make up in the morning feeling like a million bucks, like a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders, like their future stretches in front of them, a brightly lit road, leading in a hundred different possible directions.

You may disagree with me, that this is a good and just choice. You can think that all you want; it doesn’t change the numbers. 150,000-250,000 teenagers make this choice every year in the USA. Millions more throughout the world.  For a teenager this is as normal as a car accident, getting braces, or breaking up with your best friend. It is more common than losing a parent or sibling, getting cancer or being treated for addiction. It is FAR more common than teenage suicide.

So where are the stories? In a Young Adult publishing world flooded with dark damaged girls who cut or starve, get raped or beaten,  emotionally collapse, disappear into addiction or kill themselves, where are the abortions? There are plenty of pregnancies (although conveniently, the rape victims rarely seem to get pregnant) some end in miscarriage, some in keeping the baby, some in adoption.

It is a testament to how fucked up our world is that books about girls offing themselves are happily shelved in high school libraries, assigned in class and bestowed with major awards, but books wherein a teen chooses to have an abortion are almost non-existent.  What does that say about our stomach for the reality of teen life? That we are happier with suffering and surrender than with sense and sacrifice? (Yes, I think it is a sacrifice. Sue me)

We can all name five or ten books off the top of our heads wherein in a major character commits suicide. We can all name five or ten books wherein the protagonist or one of her friends is raped. I have read five of each in the last six months. I haven’t come across a single abortion. Not that these books advocate rape and suicide. But I’m not even looking for a book that advocates abortion. Just one that portrays it would be enough.  It has to do with what we are afraid to say out loud, what we are afraid to write. Why are there more rapists in teen books than girls who choose abortion? Chew on that.

In the meantime I’m dedicating this week’s Terrific Teen Tuesday to the girl who chose an abortion while you were reading this.

Little sister, whoever, wherever you are, you’re terrific.

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16 thoughts on “Terrific Teen Tuesday: YA’s Last Taboo

  1. I love this post! I think YA has a problem with handling sex in general, but especially abortion, which doesn’t seem to exist at all.

    1. I hope that some readers give me some suggestions. The only book I have heard of is The Perks of Being a Wallflower, although I haven’t read it so I can’t confirm.

    1. Just to clarify, JUMPING OFF SWINGS does exactly what I’m railing against in that a very stupid girl gets pregnant then decides against abortion in favor of adoption. Like this will be easier to live with. I used to work with birth mothers of adult adoptees and many of them were RUINED by relinquishing their babies. This is a devastating decision that should be the absolute last choice IMO. Personally I would NEVER let my daughter, niece or nephews sign away my flesh and blood to strangers.

  2. And it’s not just YA — in various (excellent) chick-lit/women’s fic novels, women facing unwanted pregnancies at the MOST work themselves up into considering terminating the pregnancy….only to have a convenient miscarriage instead.
    I’ve noticed that on TV and in movies, too…if a character gets pregnant, there is never any discussion of an abortion, unless it’s for the character to say (horrified) OMG I would never do such a thing!
    Meanwhile back in the 70s? Maude got an abortion, on a sit com no less. She was upset about it, but decided it was the right thing to do. Sheesh, my mom’s generation was more progressive than the current social climate.

  3. You are right. I would think high school students would be interested in this topic.

    Hard to believe that thirty years after I marched for women’s reproductive rights, we are still arguing over whether or not women should have control over their own bodies. I don’t know if this will help, but these are all of the books on the topic I could think of or find.

    Ballard, Kim. Light at SUmmer’s End (haven’t read; looks anti-abortion)
    Carlton, Susan. Love and Haight. (set in the early 70s)
    Cohn, Rachel.Gingerbread (character has had abortion)
    Crutcher, Chris. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (discussed)
    Irving, John. The Cider House Rules (adult)
    Levine, Ellen. In Trouble. (haven’t read, 1950s)
    Shusterman, Neal. Unwind (sort of)
    Walkley, A.J. Choice (haven’t read)
    Zindel, Paul. My Darling, My Hamburger. (1969)

  4. I know this post is old old old, I clicked through from YA verse novel post. There’s a beautiful Australian book called Borrowed Light that deals with abortion, the author’s name is Anna Fienberg. It’s pretty much one of the only novels that deal with abortion that I’ve read (I seem to remember there was an abortion in a book I read as a teenager eleventy squillion years ago (approx) called Beginner’s love by Norma Klein.
    I had a conversation with my publisher about whether you could write a YA novel with an abortion without it being the central issue or integral to the plot. They are pretty open minded, but were pretty wary of such a book (though Perks of a Wallflower does manage it).

    1. I’ll have to try to find that book. when I suggested abortion as a theme to my publisher she nearly fainted dead away, but only because they rely on classroom sales and an abortion book will never get into a classroom.

  5. I’m not sure this will even show up since this post is quite old. Another book that deals with an abortion is called UNSAID. by Anika Cassidy. It ‘s #1 on a Goodreads list of books in which a character actually has an abortion. It’s also one of the only books that brings up the health risks involved in pregnancy. It was published in 2005 but, sadly, the issue is not going away.

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