Published by Flatiron Books on June 27th 2017
Pages: 368 •Amazon
It’s what we do after the hurt that matters.
“Troubled.” That’s seventeen-year-old Genesis Johnson, according to her small New Jersey town. She finds refuge and stability in her relationship with her boyfriend, Peter—until he abandons her at a Planned Parenthood clinic during their appointment to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The betrayal causes Gen to question everything.
As Gen pushes herself forward to find her new identity without Peter, she must also confront her most painful memories. Through the lens of an ongoing four act play within the novel, the fantasy of their undying love unravels line by line, scene by scene. Digging deeper into her past while exploring the underground theater world of New York City, she rediscovers a long-forgotten dream. But it’s when Gen lets go of her history, the one she thinks she knows, that she’s finally able to embrace the complicated, chaotic true story of her life, and take center stage.
Aftercare Instructions is the book we need in YA.
It’s an honest, vulnerable, frank, and succinct story about family, relationships, and yes, abortion. But it’s not an issue book about abortion. It’s a book about the aftermath, or aftercare, about the thousands of decisions that happen in a family, in a friendship, in a relationship that lead to a single moment or pivotal point. It’s about a person being made of so much more than one action that defines them. It’s a true coming of age novel that’s somehow extremely quick yet tells an extremely in depth story.
The story begins with Genesis, the protagonist, being abandoned by her boyfriend in an out of state Planned Parenthood after terminating an accidental pregnancy. From there the narrative shifts between the next week in Genesis’ life, told through traditional chapters (each titled after an “aftercare instruction,” such as “you may experience bleeding,” “call if you develop a fever,” etc. which I thought was really clever), and flashbacks that establish her and her boyfriend Peter’s relationship, told in a play format. The entirety of the book is divided into a four act play structure. I’ll admit I was dubious about the format as I haven’t had a great experience with reading plays, but it was fantastic and provided such a great way to add depth and complexity to the story without making the flashbacks feel too long.
While the novel obviously dealt with reproductive health & issues, it was also so much more than that. Through Genesis’ struggles, we see that though she has a troubled family, she has a strong support system that she’s built outside of her immediate family, from cousins to friends to new acquaintances. We see her learn the importance of simply asking for help or allowing others to help us when we’re overwhelmed or in need of support, which is such a simple message that so often gets overlooked. Genesis also has a complexity to her character that struck the right balance between being vulnerable while also being selfish, like any teenager can be. I loved how the characters were able to call each other out and put things into perspective despite what they had each been through, and that rather than argue when emotions ran high or horrible things happened, they often talked through their anger and agreed to do better and move on. It was refreshing to see characters, especially female characters, have healthy relationships that weren’t without flaws, and that they proactively acknowledged them and learned from them.
Despite all of the other wonderful elements to Aftercare Instruction’s plot, there’s no denying that abortion is an important topic in the story, and it’s the only YA book I have ever read before that openly discusses the topic, or has a prominent character go through with it. I cannot stress how important the portrayal of abortion is in this book. It doesn’t sensationalize it, but it also doesn’t skirt the gravity of the choice to terminate a pregnancy. While Genesis is confident that it was the right decision for her and Peter at the time, she does struggle with the emotions and physical side effects of the procedure. However, the book also does a good job at demystifying the procedure as well. The procedure is eventually described in a succinct way that gives readers an understanding of the medical procedure and recovery without diving into details that may be too graphic. It depicts the options patients have (such as sedatives vs. no sedatives), the proficient medical staff, and, of course, the after effects and post-procedure instructions. No matter your political views, unintended/unwanted pregnancies happen and it’s satisfying to see the topic handled in a mature narrative that was obviously written with care and research. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight has a wonderful review that explains how responsibly the topic was handled, so I encourage you to check out her review if you’re interested in learning more about the book and the topics it handles!
Overall: Aftercare Instructions is a stunning debut that clips along at an incredibly fast pace while still building a story of meaningful relationships and that tackles emotionally charged topics. It responsibly handles the topic of abortion, and is really a stand out for featuring a controversial topic in a debut novel. While I almost wish the novel had been a little longer so I could have learned more about Genesis’ family, it’s one of the most important books I read in 2017 and I’m glad to have finished my year reading it. I can’t wait to see what topics Pipkin chooses to tackle in her future projects, and hope she continues to push the boundaries of YA content.
I kind of appreciate call out culture in any writing to do more than show that there’s an inherent problem, but actually force the characters hand in perhaps doing “something” about it. But speaking to the importance of topic, I’m happy to hear that the story did abortion just and I’ll certainly keep this title at hand if I need to read and/or recommend this title to others.
I’m definitely glad that this book handled the topic of abortion in a very direct and frank way- I feel like so many books about teen pregnancy are always about the relationship drama, adoption etc. and abortion is always alluded to but everyone is scared to talk about it. I’m so glad to see more and more boundaries being pushed in YA lit, especially compared to the books I was reading in the 00’s as a teen!
This sounds like such a cool and relevant novel! I haven’t read anything about abortion in all of my years of reading so I completely agree with you that it needs to be discussed more often. I’m in a class for uni and for a project, we need to read a book that’s in a format that you’re not familiar with or a book that is about someone different than you and I’m thinking this would be the perfect book. I’ve never really read any book in a play format (no, I never read HP and the CC) and honestly, I just want an excuse to be able to read this sooner. Lovely review, Cristina!
It was a first for the topic for me as well! I’m really glad though that it was very upfront about dealing with abortion and the age range and didn’t try to skirt around the realities of it- these are conversations that need to happen! I hope you do end up getting to read this one for your class! I’m not a fan of screenplay or play formats (still haven’t read Cursed Child either!) but the play format scenes were often pretty short and sprinkled in throughout the narrative so it was a good introduction to getting used to that type of narrative!
I’ve been meaning to read this and it keeps getting buried under new releases. It’s definitely on my MUST READ list, so I’m going to get to it at some point. Glad you liked it and that it handled the subject-matter well.
Yes, the only reason I got to this one so fast is that I was determined to not let my Christmas present books sit around (I have a bad habit of doing that!) so I wanted to ensure that I read it ASAP. It’s a book that I feel released pretty quietly compared to the HUGE hype and social media campaigns that a lot of YA titles get these days, but it’s so good- I hope you get to it soon!
Beeeeautiful review; definite must-read. I love when books test formats that aren’t typically seen in fiction novels, especially when it ends up being successful. Your review sort of reminds me of the way I feel about Exit, Pursued by a Bear. What I like about Exit, and what I can tell from your review on Aftercare, is that we have two young, female main characters who undergo extreme adversity with grace and strength; and you’re right about needing that in YA. I remember growing up reading characters whose problems were easily solvable on the next page. I think it’s smart to have younger readers be exposed to characters who are so palpable yet relatable and realistic. Really can’t wait to read this one now.
Thank you, Ericka! I have actually heard a LOT of good things about Exit, Pursued by a Bear, and have been meaning to get to it when I’m in the right head space (since it definitely deals with a touch topic). I hope you’re able to get to Aftercare Instructions soon!
This sounds great, you’ve piqued my interest! Great review as always. I’m adding this to my to-buy this. I’ve also never read a YA that looks at abortion, and if this does it well, it’s definitely worth a look even if I am also a bit cautious about the play format.
I was a little worried about the play format too (I am NOT a reader of plays) but it was sprinkled throughout the rest of the narrative and the scenes were pretty short, so I found that I didn’t have an issue with it! This is also the first/only YA book I’ve read that openly deals with abortion and I hope it’s the start of dealing with teen pregnancy narratives in a different way and exploring how every circumstance and decision is different!