Reproductive choices are a forever relevant topic, especially in YA, a category rife with stories about romance, sex, girlhood, empowerment, and coming of age. For teens in schools where abstinence is taught as the only choice of birth control, books like those below, which center around abortion, adoption, and/or teen parenthood, can provide vital education. What I love most about these books is that they don’t moralize or pretend there’s one easy, obvious choice that’s right for everyone. They don’t ignore consequences or impact. And even at their toughest, they also don’t suggest any choice will end your life at seventeen. I think each adds something significant to the YA canon, and I can only hope we’ll see more books covering the options in the coming years.
Aftercare Instructions, by Bonnie Pipkin
Genesis’s relationship with Peter is everything, until she gets pregnant and he leaves her alone at the Planned Parenthood where she has just terminated the pregnancy. Genesis is forced to go through the aftermath of the procedure alone, which kickstarts her journey to figure out exactly what she wants from a life that has already taken more than one of the relationships she held dear. Alternating between prose in her present life and backstory told in the form of a script (Genesis was once an aspiring actress), this incredibly compelling and well-crafted debut is not to be missed.
Me, Him, Them, and It, by Caela Carter
Evelyn was just going for a little bit of acting out when she started hooking up with Todd, but ends up with a whole lot more when she gets pregnant and has no clue where to go from there. No choice seems like a bearable one for her, and finally, her mother sends her away to finish the school year with her aunts and their adopted children while she figures it out. There, Evelyn finally learns to ask for help when she needs it, while coming to terms with the fact that there will never be an easy solution. Her indecision and occasional coldness may make Evelyn a tough heroine to contend with at times, but they’re also what make her so perfectly real in a story that demands exactly that.
Ask Me How I Got Here, by Christine Heppermann
Probably my favorite YA novel in verse, this book may only take an hour or two to read, but Hepperman definitely knows how to make the story stick with you. Everything in Addie’s life is pretty smooth sailing, from her running career to her relationship with her boyfriend, until the night they’re not so careful. When she makes the decision to terminate, she has full support, but life after the procedure has Addie feeling different, even as she completely stands by her choice. Suddenly none of the things that used to fulfill her do, and the only thing that keeps her going is hanging out with Juliana, a former teammate who has returned to town and is dealing with her own issues.
How to Love, by Katie Cotugno
Three years ago, Reena’s unrequited love for Sawyer magically turned out to be returned after all. Now, she has a daughter who’s proof of the relationship she once had, but who has never met the father who disappeared on them both…until now. Sawyer’s return throws Reena off track in a major way as she struggles to reconcile how badly he hurt her family with the fact that he’s still the love of her life. Examining both Then and Now, this debut makes no easy choices and presents no perfect characters or paths; instead, it focuses on the work that often goes into loving someone and the complicated ways we feel and express that emotion, not just with romantic partners but with family, friends, and even with God. This is, quite frankly, one of my favorite YA debuts ever, and it’s also one of the very few in which readers actually see a teen parenting and experiencing all the joys and sacrifice that go with it.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E.K. Johnston
I’ve already had plenty to say here on my love and respect for this loose retelling of The Winter’s Tale, but I’ll never tire of mentioning it again. In it, cheerleader Hermione is drugged and raped at cheer camp, and if that weren’t violating enough, the attack impregnates her as well, despite the hospital’s use of Plan B. The decision to terminate is a clear one for Hermione, as is the one not to let her attack define her or her future. It helps that she has wonderful support (for the most part), and it’s very welcome to see a book in which both friends and family stick by the protagonist through her difficult choices.
What You Left Behind, by Jessica Verdi
Verdi’s third novel takes a unique point of view here in its focus on the single father left behind after his girlfriend opts to have the baby he impregnated her with, even though it means forgoing her cancer treatment and eventually sacrificing her life. Ryden feels like everything is closing in, and his responsibilities to his daughter feel more consuming than ever as he struggles toward a soccer scholarship at UCLA. The only thing that helps is spending time with Joni, his coworker who has no idea about his home life, or that he’s still reading the old journals Meg left for him. But both keeping secrets and digging into the past have complicated emotional consequences for Ryden, and this book definitely doesn’t shy away from any of the raw, honest, messy parts of his story.
Trouble, by Non Pratt
This UK debut centers around party girl and notorious flirt Hannah, grieving new kid Aaron, and what happens when she gets pregnant and he steps up to pretend to be the baby’s father. It isn’t that Hannah doesn’t know who got her pregnant, but this is one private matter she knows has to stay private…which is why it’s such a betrayal when her best friend reveals her secret to the school. Now she’s the center of attention in a way she never wanted to be, but with Aaron by her side as a supportive dad who’s slowly becoming more, her situation actually becomes bearable. And for Aaron, who needed to find some meaning in his life after a tragedy for which he feels responsible, it’s a chance to rebuild. While the baby may not actually be turning them into a family, the friendship between them is, and it’s a beautiful thing to read about.