I read this just before finals this year, though I’ve waited to share this review until I had time to sit down and give it the attention I think it deserves. Since it’s going to be a movie soon, I’m pretty sure this book doesn’t need my help reaching readers, but I do think it’s an important and brave book relevant to our current world.
Unpregnant by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan is the story I’ve craved since I first saw Ellen Page take on the role of Juno in the eponymous teen pregnancy film, a role which is noteworthy both for the emotional poignancy she brings to teen pregnancy story, as well as convincing us that someone could be in love with Michael Cera. Juno, while important for its time, left me wishing it had been just a little bolder, and little braver. Juno decided to give her baby for adoption, and never looked back, even when the chosen couple turned out to not be as picture perfect as she’d initially thought. Her loving and supportive family made that choice easy and right for her.
Unpregnant does many things Juno did not, the least of all was proudly using the word abortion to let us know that it’s not a shameful or dirty one. It gives us the story of Veronica, a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, who prided herself on always being the top of her class and model daughter, looking into a bright future, only to discover that she could potentially lose it all, despite her great care in her active decisions. We meet Veronica in the stall of the girls bathroom at her school just ahead of graduation, shocked and crying over that damning second line on the pee test strip.
Enter Bailey, the black sheep of the school, the so-called weirdo by her peers, and the former best friend of Veronica. She enters the bathroom just in time to discover Veronica’s secret, which sets off a quick chain of events that sends Veronica to her door, asking for a favor. The two set out on a wild, hilarious, and touching road trip that challenges both girls with adult decisions often denied to teens so close to the magical age of majority.
Obviously Veronica has many things in her favor in this journey: her parents trust her; the friends she considers her best are willing to cover for her story; a boyfriend with financial means to help her get what she needs. Apart from these conveniences which allow the plot to happen when many a young woman would be roadblocked, Unpregnant gives us a very real look at the circumstances of accessibility to reproductive healthcare. It’s a coming of age story that shows the mixed signals we give teens, expecting them to act as proto-adults while disallowing them the agency to make informed decisions for themselves. It’s a vast canyon that seems as wide as the distance between Veronica and the only clinic she can find that is legally allowed to help her, and I can’t help but think Hendriks and Caplan gave us this metaphor intentionally.
I gave it five stars on Goodreads for many reasons: normalizing abortion, authentic depiction of the many downsides to being a high-achieving teen, and being a story about girls in friendships supporting one another, which is something I crave above all else. You can get Unpregnant just about anywhere you buy books, or you can just wait for the movie, which I’m excited to see.