Before and After

I remember going to Planned Parenthood in my early 20s because I didn’t have health insurance and needed birth control pills. Not because I was having any fun with anyone but because my uterus and ovaries were complete jerks and the pills were the only thing that helped. I would sit in the waiting room and play the ‘Which One of These Girls Sitting Here is About to Have an Abortion?’ game. Not in a judgmental way but more like: you do what you have to do while I sit over here with this pamphlet explaining vaginal health with a wonky drawing that looks a lot like the mouth of the monster in the movie Predator.

There was not a lot of eye contact going on in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood but most of the patients were young girls, some nervously tapping their feet while their mothers sat next to them, ironically flipping through a Parenting magazine. Or best friends whispering to each other as they waited. Once, I saw a young man waiting with a girl. He held her hand while looking like he wasn’t old enough to drive. But him holding her hand was a declaration: I’ll be here when it’s over.

In Bonnie Pipkin’s Aftercare Instructions, 17-year-old Genesis Johnson has just had an abortion and goes back into the waiting room to find that her boyfriend, Peter, has disappeared. I don’t mean he was abducted by aliens. While Gen was having their baby taken from her while mellow jazz played on a speaker, Peter took off. Not only is he her boyfriend and supposed to be there for her, he was also her ride. Her cousin Delilah goes to college nearby so Gen heads over there and crashes, waking up to no phone calls from Peter, no texts.

Gen’s mother doesn’t know where she’s at but then again, she rarely cares anymore. Her mom has become a zombie after her husband’s death and Gen’s younger sister, Ally, has been taken away to live with her grandparent’s because their mother can’t cope with life. Gen’s home life is beyond suck city so when she met Peter, she found the love and affection she didn’t realize she was missing out on. He was there when Gen’s mother had a breakdown and had to be hospitalized.

Peter’s mother doesn’t approve of Genesis and thinks she’s from the wrong side of the tracks, especially because of the way Gen’s father died. Gen’s former friend Vanessa (who’s been after Peter for a long time) blabbed to everyone about how Gen’s father died. Now it seems as if Peter and Vanessa might be a thing. Gen’s life begins to spiral. Now she’s post-abortion, still bleeding, still reeling and not making great choices (then again, what 17-year-old makes consistently great choices?).

Gen goes to a party at her cousin’s college and gets blacked out drunk and meets Seth and they do what humans usually do when drunk: a lot of quality making out and then waking up sick the next morning not remembering how far things went. Don’t worry. This isn’t the usual ‘The best way to get over a man is to get under a new one’ trope. Seth’s a pretty solid dude and a total gentleman. Nothing happened between the two of them but he takes a shine to Gen while she’s not sure what’s going on: if she and Peter are still a thing, if her mom is going to have more breakdowns or if she’s finding her way out of the fog.

Written with a rawness not found in many YA books, Aftercare Instructions plunges into ideas about who we think we are, who we become and who truly loves us.