Girls on the Verge: A Librarian’s Perspective

First, an important disclaimer:

I know that some of my readers will disagree with my stance on abortion, but there is no way to review this book without making my own opinion on it clear. The abortion issue is so polarizing, and I believe I have just read the next addition to the ALA Most-Frequently Challenged List. Girls on the Verge just came out in April 2019, about four months before the writing of this review. Give it a year, probably less, and I bet we’ll see this book raising some eyebrows in high schools across America.

If attempts at censorship bring more attention to this important title and topic, then I say bring it on.

SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster
PUBLICATION DATE: April 9, 2019
ISBN: 9781250151698
PAGES: 229
SOURCE: Brooklyn Public Library OverDrive
GENRE: realistic fiction
SETTING: mostly Texas, present day
GIVE IT TO: HS, adults

SUMMARY

When 17-year old Camille discovers she is pregnant, she is positive she does not want to have the baby. Because she lives in Texas, Camille must jump through all sorts of hoops to get an abortion. Tired of the games, Camille and her two friends Bea and Annabelle drive across Texas, into Mexico, and eventually to New Mexico trying to obtain an abortion.

THE SHORT VERSION

Girls on the Verge made me mad. It will make many people mad, for completely opposing reasons. Some will sympathize with Camille and her frustration with the hoops she has to jump through to obtain a legal and safe abortion. Others will disagree strongly with Camille’s decision to even have an abortion in the first place. Watch for this on frequently-challenged booklists in a few months. If this book gets any traction in high schools, you better believe it will be challenged.

WHAT I LIKED

Girls on the Verge is such an important, timely book. I lived in Texas for 18 years, and it is true that religion, Christianity in particular, has a huge presence in the state’s laws and politics. Girls is set in 2014, a time when the state of Texas put up many roadblocks to prevent Camille and others like her from getting an abortion. As difficult as it is for my friends from Europe to fathom, this is an accurate depiction of Texas politics. More recently, it seems Alabama and other southern US states are also passing many restrictions on abortions and women’s access to quality reproductive health care.

The ridiculous tasks Camille had to complete in order to “qualify” for an abortion are simply outrageous. Camille does not want a baby. Period. It’s her body; it’s her life. None of the obstacles she faces–counseling, ultrasounds, hearing the baby’s heartbeat, threats to call her parents–make any difference to Camille and her desire to NOT have a baby right now.

Her body, her life.

Sure, Camille and the boy could have made better choices, but they did not. It happens. It does not change the fact that Camille does not want to have a baby, and she certainly isn’t ready for it at this point in her life. Pregnancy and a baby are huge responsibilities, and Camille has the right to decide if, when, and how that happens. It is no one else’s business.

I hated that the abortion obstacles Camille faces were put into place by politicians, the majority of whom are older, wealthy, white men. When would a male politician ever be in Camille’s situation? I bet if (when) they knock-up some sweet young thang, the same wealthy, white men would pay money–plenty of it–for an easy, quiet abortion.

I think this is an important book for anyone to read, whether they are pro-life or pro-choice. Abortion is a complex issue, and seeing it from the perspective of a fictional character can help at least increase understanding. And in the author’s note at the end, readers will get the perspective of a real person–the author–who wanted an abortion at a young age.

 

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

Underdeveloped characters kept me from really connecting with Camille’s story. Annabelle was pretty awesome, but Bea is just about the worst friend I can imagine. She comes around, thankfully, but she gets zero friend points from me. It seemed that she only went on the trip because she was jealous of Camille finding a new–and much more supportive–friend in Annabelle. If I were Camille, I would have told Bea to stay home. Camille was in crisis mode and did not need Bea’s drama and sanctimonious lecturing along for the ride.

Girls on the Verge is an issue-driven story. A super-important issue-driven story. I can’t think of any other book for teens that examines abortion in this manner. For me, the story itself was just okay, but I love what it does for opening a dialogue about a woman’s right to safe and legal reproductive health care.

Last, what smart, 17-year old high school girl doesn’t know that you can get pregnant the first time you have sex? Maybe that still happens in 2019, but I don’t believe that Camille’s character is that naive.

 

LIBRARIANS WILL WANT TO KNOW

Themes: abortion, the right to choose, feminism, maturity, coming of age, road trips, friendship

Would adults like this book? Abortion is polarizing. Some will agree strongly; others will disagree strongly. I think if you are staunchly pro-life, this is probably not a book you will enjoy.

Would I buy this for my high school library? Absolutely, yes. Super-important read for high school girls AND BOYS.

Would I buy this for my middle school library? I would not. I know middle school girls do sometimes find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy, but this book is for high school more than middle school.

Would I buy this for my own children? My boys will be in 7th and 9th grades this school year. Though I am happy for my boys to read any book that interests them, I don’t think either would really “get” the point of Girls on the Verge on their own. My 9th grader wouldn’t ask enough questions (too embarrassed), and my 7th grader just would not relate at all (not enough life experience).

 

WHAT ELSE DO LIBRARIANS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GIRLS ON THE VERGE?

Language: medium-high–It’s all there but not gratuitous. Also includes medical and slang terms for genitalia and appropriately frank discussion of menstruation and gynecological exams.

Sexuality: mild–There’s the one scene where Camille gets pregnant, and it’s pretty unremarkable. It happens and it’s over really quickly. Though it was awkward and embarrassing for Camille, it was consensual.

Violence: mild–pro-life activists protest outside an abortion clinic, but it does not get violent; in the author’s note, there is a paragraph about abortion doctors being murdered and clinics bombed.

Drugs/Alcohol: mild–abortion pill purchased in Mexico, ibuprofen

Other: shoplifting, a closed strip club, slut-shaming

 

BOOKTALK OR DISPLAY THIS WITH:

Have you read Girls on the Verge? What are your thoughts on

including it in a middle school and/or high school library?

 

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