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.