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'After' confronts teen pregnancy

"AFTER," by Amy Efaw, Viking Children's Books, 350 pages, $17.99 (Grades 7 and up)

With teen birth rates on the rise in the United States, an effort to educate youths on teen pregnancy has taken on a new life.

Television shows such as "The Secret Life of an American Teenager" and "16 and Pregnant" are gaining popularity with parents and youths alike. And that trend is also trickling down to young adult fiction.

In "After," author Amy Efaw creates an up-close and heartbreaking story of a young girl who throws her newborn baby in a trash can.

Devon Davenport is the last person people would expect to get in trouble. She's responsible, polite, a straight-A student and a star soccer player. She's the perfect role model, or so people think, until an abandoned baby is found in the trash behind her apartment building.

As the police go door to door looking for information, they find Devon lying on her couch hemorrhaging. Against her will, Devon is rushed to the hospital and her world unravels.

The next days are a blur for Devon. She doesn't understand why she's in court or in jail. She doesn't remember being pregnant and now she's facing attempted murder charges.

It isn't until Devon's attorney begins questioning her in preparation for her trial that the truth behind Devon's pregnancy comes out. Devon is in denial and it's a slow and painful process for all involved.

"After" is a hard book to read. Not because it's poorly written — it's actually quite the opposite — but because of the subject matter. Rather than handling the subject with kid gloves, Efaw hits it head on.

The story is told from Devon's perspective and attempts to show how and why a bright and talented teen would not only hide her pregnancy but then throw away her child. Make no mistake, Efaw doesn't make excuses for Devon's behavior; instead she forces readers to take a closer look at the world and the people surrounding them.

Efaw has brilliantly captured the emotion and consequences that stem from teen pregnancy in a way that will resonate with readers long after putting the book down.

"After" is certainly not for everyone, but it does serve as a good jumping-off point for discussion between parents and their teen children and for society as a whole.

e-mail: jharrison@desnews.com