A Hidden Teen Pregnancy, An Unthinkable Crime The protagonist of After, Amy Efaw's new novel for young adults, is a 15-year-old straight-A student and Olympic hopeful who winds up in jail, charged with trying to murder her newborn baby.
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A Hidden Teen Pregnancy, An Unthinkable Crime

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A Hidden Teen Pregnancy, An Unthinkable Crime

A Hidden Teen Pregnancy, An Unthinkable Crime

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Devon is 15 years old, straight-A student, a top grade soccer player, and an Olympic hopefully. So how did she wind up in jail charged with trying to murder her newborn baby?

"After" is a new novel for young adults by Amy Efaw. It's a different direction for Ms. Efaw, who's first novel; "Battle Dress," was based on her experience as a West Point cadet.

Amy Efaw joins us now from the studios of member station KCFR in Denver.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. AMY EFAW (Author, "After"): Thanks, Scott, for having me.

SIMON: A young girl who leaves her newborn in a garbage, this would not seem to be a sympathetic hero.

Ms. EFAW: No, not at all. Because I think we who hear these stories - when we're driving around - we have these preconceptions about what these girls are like; we think they are monsters. But I did a lot of research on this subject when I decided to write this book and I discovered that my preconception was completely wrong, that these girls typically are not described as a mess mom(ph) but more accurately described as sort of a poster child for the American high achiever.

SIMON: Let me get you to follow up on that, because Devon is in fact a high achiever. And I - as part of what you learned, I think some people listening will find it incredible that anybody, but particularly somebody as in tune with her body as presumably a 15-year-old high caliber athlete is, would not know that she was pregnant.

Ms. EFAW: You know, I think people see what they want to see and they don't want to see what they don't want to see. The very core of this phenomenon, which is a real phenomenon, is denial. Denial is the core, and so if a young girl like my main character Devon is denying the fact that she even had a sexual relationship at all because dealing with that was just too painful for her for her own reasons, then of course there can't be a resulting pregnancy from that. So it's a personal denial, but it's also a community denial. As we read the story and we learn more about Devon's life, we see that the people closest to her didn't acknowledge the pregnancy either. They didn't confront the denial and so she can go on unhindered in her denial until the moment where she is alone by herself in a bathroom and goes into labor.

SIMON: A lot of parents may not want their teenage daughters - teenaged sons, for that matter - to read this book.

Ms. EFAW: You know, I've had this discussion with people before, and first of all, a lot of people don't like their children to read disturbing books because they think their kids are going to somehow get involved in this activity. I really - the argument that a girl's going to read this book and then say, you know, I can't wait till I get pregnant so I can throw my baby in a garbage can. So that argument sort of kind of falls apart, but I think there are benefits to this story.

This is a story about a girl who I would say about a third way through her sophomore year starts withdrawing into herself. She stops participating in class and she skips out on her soccer practices. She doesn't respond to text messages from her friends. Yet nobody acknowledges the fact that she sort of dropped off the radar. And I think a lot of kids feel invisible.

And so a book like this can validate their feelings and help them realize that they're not alone. There are other kids unfortunately that are feeling exactly like they are.

Ms. EFAW: But then for the kids who aren't feeling isolated or alone, a book like this can help them empathize with the kids around them who are. It is a disturbing and taboo subject. There's a lot of silence that surrounds a subject like this, and that's what sort of inspired me to write this book in the first place, is - I don't know what it says about me, but I'm intrigued sort of with the things that people don't want to talk about, the darker side of human nature.

SIMON: How does a West Point Cadet wind up being a novelist for young readers? I mean I imagine a lot of your classmates are, you know, at this point tank commanders or something.

Ms. EFAW: You know, I think a preconception about West Pointers is that they're sort of military robots, but…

SIMON: We don't think that.

Ms. EFAW: You don't think that.

SIMON: No, but - no, but we also don't think of West Point cadets as budding novelists.

Ms. EFAW: Right, exactly. It is kind of a strange thing. I would say that my experience at West Point was very - the classes were geared towards engineering, which is not my forte at all. But you know, I think a writer takes things from their life and puts it on paper in a way that people can relate to. So I think you can be any kind of person. And once I was done with my commitment as an army officer, this is what I decided to do.

SIMON: You have five children. How old is your oldest, may I ask?

Ms. EFAW: She just turned 18 in July.

SIMON: She read your books? Did she read this one?

Ms. EFAW: Yes. My daughter Alex(ph) is a kid who loves fantasy books. So, to get her to read my book was hard. But she read the book, and she actually read an early draft of it and gave me some suggestions which I thought was great. And in fact, I also have a 16-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old daughter. And my 16-year-old told me over and over again how boring my book is and how she'd never want to read it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. EFAW: And when she finally read it, she's like, oh my goodness, this is an amazing book, I can't believe my mom wrote this.

SIMON: Well, that's better than Publishers Weekly, and they like your books.

Mr. EFAW: It is, because it kind of bothered me. It took me seven years to write this book. And for one of my daughters to actually tell me that she couldn't stop reading it was a - was a huge compliment.

SIMON: Ms. Efaw, thanks so much.

Ms. EFAW: Thank you for having me, Scott. It was great.

SIMON: And you can read an excerpt of Amy Efaw's "After" and find reviews, more current fiction, non-fiction, on our Web site, npr.org.

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