I received this book to review after the author read a review of Ellen Levine’s book In Trouble on my blog. Like Levine’s novel, Buckley’s novel deals with a young girl who finds herself “in trouble” — that is, very young and very much pregnant. To make matters worse, the girl (15-year-old Kara) finds out she’s pregnant after she is raped on a date with her basketball star boyfriend who she’s been sneaking out of the house to see because her Catholic parents are very strict, especially her father. She happens to be pretty drunk the night he raped her, and when she finds out she’s pregnant, her boyfriend does what all the bad boy impregnators do in books: he asks if she’s sure it’s his, he tells her to get an abortion, and then he starts dating someone else right away.
Just so you know, their are some spoilers that are about to follow but that’s a big part of my review. All right. Disclaimer over.
I like books that deal with hard teen issues like rape, pregnancy, mental health, etc. I think if they’re well done, they can really benefit the young adults reading them. What I don’t like is a book that comes across as preachy, one way or another, or books that sound too much like adults trying to teach their readers a lesson. Those books do, in my opinion, do no good and in some cases can actually do harm.
That’s the kind of book I think Choices is, unfortunately. I say unfortunately because I really, really wanted to like it.
There are a few things that bothered me, and one of those is the voice of the novel. A book whose main character is a teenager should sound like a teenager. (Unless, of course, the author is trying to create a kid with character, but this wasn’t the case with Choices — Kara wanted to be normal, to go to parties with friends and be a “regular” 15-year-old.) Very, very rarely does she come across this way, as a kid who is real and true and believable. She sounds very adult in the way she says certain things, like an adult would sound when he or she is trying to sound like a teenager. The results are that are a story that comes across as condescending and forced. So often Kara doesn’t even come across as a real, sympathetic teenager, and while the things she thinks/says may be representative of what a typical teenager things/says, they just sound ridiculous on the written page. For instance:
My father had given me the cell phone for my fifteenth birthday. He’d put me on the family plan. Yeah he did. It was just another way for him to control me, to freaking spy on me.
Kara thinks this after her mom questions her about some frequent phone calls and expensive texts to a number her father doesn’t recognize. Maybe it’s just because I’m 28 years old, but what teenager actually expects her parents to get her her own phone plan?! All kids go on their parents’ family plans. This is just one example where the author’s need to put Kara in the “poor-me-I’m-so-sheltered” box went too far (which is different than Kara not sounding like a normal teenager, but I’m going to be real and just admit that this review is all over the place).
Additionally, there is too much that happens in this book for its 200 and change pages to really go deep enough. Date rape, teen pregnancy, and binge drinking (which is questionable, because Kara drinks one time, and mostly it’s jello shots, and it’s just not executed in a way that makes me think she’s binge drinking) — those are serious issues. How can you address them in just over 200 pages? You can’t, at least not in a way that is meaningful to readers. Buckley’s background is in counseling and I think that’s why this book is so short: it’s not really a book that a kid could pick up from the library and be satisfied with. At least not the kind of kid I was when I was 15 (although I was pregnant when I was 15, so… you decide that one). It’s more the kind of book you assign as homework in group therapy and use to start discussions.
And here’s where we come to my biggest problem with Choices. It’s short and that’s because it doesn’t actually present the choices that relate to an unplanned, unwanted teenage pregnancy. I don’t usually blab my political beliefs all over the interwebz, and please don’t debate me because I’m not trying to start a political debate, but I am both a Christian and pro-choice (if you call me a bad Christian I will sic Jesus on you), much like Kara’s family ends up being both Catholic and supportive of Kara’s abortion. I hate when people say that pro-choice means pro-death or pro-abortion. It’s not any of those. It literally means a woman has the right to choose. But this novel seriously, seriously fails to give Kara a choice. She is pretty determined from the get-go to have an abortion, and in less than 100 pages, it’s made easy for her. The hardest part is that she lives in a parental consent state (and I do not, so that’s a strange concept for me) and so she has to tell her parents so they can take her to have the procedure done.
I don’t think every teenage girl who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant should get an abortion. There’s no right or easy decision when it comes to teen pregnancy. But I do believe that all teenage girls in that situation should have all of the right information to make a fair, thoughtful, informed decision because no matter what the outcome is, the choice will change the course of her life. Buckley’s website describes Choices this way: “The many sides of the reproductive rights issue come together in Choices, a story voiced with respect, sensitivity, heart and emotion.” Really, there is only one side of reproductive rights that is seen, and that’s of abortion. Honestly, I usually get a little butt-hurt when I hear “the right” accusing “the left” of pushing an agenda, but now I’m a little butt-hurt because I feel like my beloved liberal thinkers have gone to a major “feminist” extreme, one that doesn’t really explain what it means to be pro-choice. In this case, this is a pro-abortion novel. (I am so, so sorry for the “”. You probably hate me now.) This book is just poorly titled. I think I would have much less beef with it if it had a title that more accurately reflected its contents.
At the end of the day, while the book left me extremely disappointed and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone I know to read on his or her own, I could see it being useful in a counseling setting, either individually or as part of a group. And that is it.
Overall Rating: 6.5/10
(I received this book to review directly from the author. I was not asked to make a positive review in exchange for the book, just an honest one. You can find out more about the author and her work by checking out her website.)