Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont

As you can probably tell from my blog I enjoy reading fiction that deals with real problems teens face today; abortion, teen sex, pregnancy, drug abuse etc.
What I look for in these books is that the issues are discussed honestly and the facts presented in a truthful, unbiased manner. I wish I could say that about Nina de Gramont's book, Every Little Thing in the World, but I can't.
This book, about a teenage girl dealing with her unexpected pregnancy is biased towards abortion rights and filled with incidents and dialogue that perpetuate misinformation about abortion, abortion providers and the prolife movement.

Although it may appear that de Gramont explores both sides of the abortion issue, she really doesn't. The book is mainly a parroting of misquoted prolife phrases that never quite meet the mark nor make the case for Sydney having her baby, all the while portraying prolife people as self-righteous and pushy. And maybe that's because de Gramont doesn't know nor understand the prolife position or maybe because she supports abortion rights.

Sydney Biggs, 16 years old and pregnant, is sent to spend time with her father on his farm, to shape up and get her act together. Her mother is fed up with her drinking and partying. What Sydney's mother doesn't know is that she is pregnant. With no one she feels she can to turn to, no money and a broken family Sydney decides that she will get an abortion.

And in fact, this highlights one of the most significant reasons as to why women have abortions. Women who seek abortions often feel they have no options. Abortion presents itself as the easiest and only reasonable option. Many eventually learn that what seemed to be a simple straightforward "procedure" becomes a life-time of regret or worse.

The other aspect of this is that having a child is portrayed as a very life-ruining thing. It's true that for a 16 year old girl it is a life altering event. But it doesn't have to remain this way, since the teen does have the option of adopting out her baby and getting on with her life. But our society goes out of its way to portray the problems a baby makes in one's life and to portray adoption as an option worse than death.

And in fact, de Gramont reinforces the former viewpoint in her book. Sydney is staying at her father's home. His second wife, Kerry is mother to twins and an eight-month-old. She is described as 29 years old and "since the twins and Rebecca, she had gained over a hundred pounds."  Many of my friends, all who have 5 or more children do not weigh 200 lbs. In fact, most are entering middle age, trim and healthy.

This section of the book is peppered with unsavory descriptions of Kerry the mother:
"Kerry was a big believer in breast-feeding, and the only thing that ever calmed her babies down was one of her giant boobs.....I sang a little, but without much feeling, knowing nothing I did would make a difference until Kerry returned and peeled off her shirt."

So here we have a woman who CHOSE to have babies and whose body is now "jiggly" and hugely overweight. Not very appealing to teens. 

Breastfeeding, a very natural part of being a mother is presented in an almost degrading way. Having breastfed at least 4 children, I know I have NEVER peeled off my shirt to breastfeed, not even in the privacy of my own home.

On page 27, de Gramont has Sydney looking up information about babies in her stepmother's baby book. She states "Across the country politicians and Christians fought over whether life began at conception." Of course what Sydney doesnt' know is that every embryology text used in medical schools worldwide define conception as the beginning of  a new human life. It is politicans and abortion rights advocates who have campaigned for the change in the medical definition of when life begins so as to market drugs such as RU-486 and Plan B as contraceptives rather than abortifacients.

On page 42, de Gramont has Sydney looking through the telephone book for abortion providers. Sydney is shocked that abortion is first in the yellow pages but upon closer inspection she realizes that in fact, "abortion alternatives" are listed first. You know, organizations like

"...Birthright of Northern New Jersey, and New Jersey Citizens for Life. I knew that if I called any of them, I would get a lecture on the evils of abortion. They'd call it murder. Being against sex education themselves, they probably wouldn't have taken it.....Probably they would drop the name Jesus Christ.....and tell me that fetuses screamed during D & C's....."

Well first off, having worked for Birthright, I'd like to inform Ms. deGramont that Birthright is a volunteer organization designed to help women have their babies. That is the mission of the organization.  Birthright serves clients of all faiths. Birthright connects women with the resources they need to give birth.
A woman choosing abortion would not be lectured to, nor would God be brought into any discussion. A woman wanting to abort her baby would however, have to find the help to obtain an abortion through another organization.

I also wonder what New Jersey Right to Life would say about giving evil lectures? Did de Gramont ever contact ANY prolife group to determine exactly WHAT they tell women or where they refer women who call them.
Did de Gramont contact any pregnancy support group to determine what they do?

Secondly, every pregnancy results in the creation of a new human being. This is a provable, scientific fact presented in virtually all embryology and obstetrical texts, that those favoring abortion rights have chosen to ignore or discount.
Thirdly, the correct term for the type of abortion de Gramont mentions is a Dilation and Extraction not a D & C which is the medical term used for miscarriages.

Continuing on,

At any rate: The New Jersey Citizens for Life would pretend to care about me, but their real goal would be nine months down the road, a nice white baby for a nice white - and Christian - family.

Sadly, what I felt was shown through this passage of her book, was the cynicism of an adult shown through the teen character, Sydney. Not to mention the disparaging remark against Christian white families! Especially since Planned Parenthood's origins are based in the white supremacist and eugenics movement founded by Margaret Sanger.

"Starting in seventh grade, we'd had health class, otherwise known as sex education.....We knew that we should always use condoms, always, because one time was all it took to get pregnant or catch an STD...."

I found it interesting that despite Sydney having taken "health" class where she learned the above "facts", she still got pregnant. Or maybe it was because of "health" class? Of course, "health" class failed to mention abstinence until marriage might have helped Sydney avoid the situation she now finds herself in. But of course, those promoting contraception and abortion to teens insist that abstinence education is not effective despite recent research demonstrating the opposite.

I think de Gramont's portrayal of Sydney's behaviour with her previous boyfriend Greg; "Whenever we had sex, we always used a condom plus an extra dose of spermicide.."  demonstrates actions that are atypical of teenagers. Most teenagers do NOT use contraception and certainly not two forms of contraception, despite intense indoctrination and "education". And in fact, countries with mandatory sex ed classes/programs such as the United Kingdom, show burgeoning teen pregnancy rates. Recent research has demonstrated that not only are these programs ineffective but that they may even have an "adverse effect".

Page 43 of Every Little Thing reads like a page directly out of a Planned Parenthood pamphlet. I'm betting most teens simply skipped over this page.

However, the normally savvy Sydney doesn't respond this way with her new boyfriend and toymate. On page 44, Sydney states "But with Tommy, I hadn't felt like I knew him well enough to remind him about the condom issue.....I would have felt like such a killjoy bringing up a technical and unromantic word like "condom"..

Moving along with the storyline, we learn that Sydney is to be packed off to a summer camp in northern Ontario to learn about responsibility and rediscover herself. Her best friend Natalia Miksa, also grounded for bad behaviour ends up at the same summer camp. Prior to arriving at camp, Natalia discovers that her much older sister is in fact her mother who had her at age 16 or so. Natalia, originally in favor of abortion, is now prolife.

Natalia states, "...I keep thinking about your plans, and then I feel sort of grateful. If Margit had had an abortion, I woudn't be here."
Sydney counters with,
"You wouldn't be here if Margit had stayed a virgin till she was twenty-two," I said. 
"You wouldn't bew here if your parents, your grandparents, had never met, or if they'd stayed in Hungary...."

While this is all true, the fact is that Sydney's baby is real and already now exists. The fact that Sydney cannot feel her baby yet doesn't make that baby any less real. The choice to NOT have a baby is made before engaging in sexual intercourse. Sydney made a choice. She chose to have sex at a time when she was not ready to have a baby. She is now pregnant with a human baby. The argument she presents is diversionary and irrelevant.

Throughout their time canoeing through northern Ontario, Natalia offers to help Sydney. She eventually offers to take her baby and to make things right for her. However, Sydney remains ambivalent and undecided until finally she takes Natalia up on her offer.

Near the end of camp, all the campers in Natalia and Sydney's group come down with food poisoning. While Sydney herself doesn't become sick, she does paddle to the nearest outpost for help. When everyone is taken to hospital Sydney makes the impulsive decision to have an abortion. When she learns that as an American citizen she cannot have an abortion in and Ontario hospital unless someone pays for the "procedure", she finally reaches out in desperation and calls her mother.

Of course Sydney's mom who was so in favour of tough love at the beginning of the book, now caves in when she learns her daughter is pregnant. No encouraging Sydney to take responsibility for getting pregnant. Instead mom lovingly springs for the money for the abortion because THAT is considered the responsible parental action. There's no discussion about the other possibilities such as having the baby and adoption. There's no discussion of the risks involved in having an abortion. Abortion is presented as a quick, easy solution to a complicated life-changing situation.

When Sydney tells Natalia that "there's no more baby", Sydney states 

"...I wasn't sorry. I couldn't be. In the end I had chosen hope when hope presented itself. I had chosen me, and a life beyond that fleeting craziness two months before. I had chosen this new wisdom and resignation over months and years of uncertainty and trouble."

Abortion as hope. A baby dies in every abortion. A baby is nature's way of saying that life goes on. A baby is the future. How is killing a baby an act of hope? It is an act of cowardice.

Sadly, I felt this book portrayed abortion as a responsible, self-liberating act of hope. Abortion is anything but this. One needs to only consider the growing "I regret my abortion" movement in the United States to see that for many many women abortion is a traumatic life experience in which they remain forever, the mother of a dead baby. Despite abortion advocates attempts to portray abortion as a affirming experience, it remains one of deep shame for many women.

I am disappointed that de Gramont did not present a stronger case for a teen girl having her baby and considering other options than single parenthood or abortion. It is also irresponsible to portray abortion as an easy way out without any discussion of the physical, emotional and psychological risks of abortion.

I can recommend this book as a great discussion point for abortion, sex education, adoption, teen pregnancy and teen sexuality as well as the impact of divorce and single parenthood on teens.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Finding Cassidy by Laura Langston

Finding Cassidy deals with the unusual issue of donor children. Cassidy MacLaughlin is a typical 16 year old, concerned with her boyfriend,friends and school. Then one day her dad has a fall and tests at the hospital confirm he has Huntington's Chorea, an inherited, genetic brain disorder. This fact causes Cassidy a great deal of stress because she now worries that she may have inherited this disease from her father. She wants to get tested - immediately. When Cassidy presses for testing she learns that she doesn't have to worry because in fact, her father is not her biological father. She was conceived by artificial insemination with donor sperm. Cassidy is hurt and devastated by this disclosure by her parents.

It was all done in a laboratory. His sperm know...inserted inside...when I was fertile." She waved her hands in the air to cover her discomfort. "It was all very clean and scientific. Business-like. There was nothing nasty about it."
Clean and scientific. Business-like.
Cassidy struggles to understand. She feels betrayed and unmoored. Cassidy also feels that she can no longer trust her parents who have lied to her all these years. Her parents however, believe that her manner of conception isn't important. Only the result, the baby that is Cassidy, is important.

The threat of Huntington's seemed almost bearable compared to this...this strange black hole of not having Dad be my dad.

"A business arrangement. I started life because of a business arrangement. Right then, my bones felt so hollow I half expected to float up from the table and fly away without even trying."

We also learn that the idea to conceive a child came from Cassidy's mother's father, something that her father (who was the parent with the infertility problem) expressed with bitterness.

Cassidy continues to pressure her parents to provide her with information regarding her biological father. At first her parents are reluctant to do so but it is her father who eventually encourages Cassidy to fight for the information that she feels she has a right to know.

I felt that Laura Langston portrayed Cassidy's struggles in a realistic and sympathetic manner. At first Cassidy does not cope well. She starts calling her father by his first name, Frank. And she impulsively decides to sleep with her boyfriend, Jason, who doesn't understand her internal conflicts. She also becomes obsessed with who her father might be, even wondering if total strangers might be her father. But eventually, through her friend Quinn and her father, she begins to organize herself to fight for the information she wants. In the end, she also acknowledges that Frank IS her dad but that somewhere she has a biological father too.

It was interesting to explore the various issues of trust, betrayal, the donor child's right to full disclosure - that is, to know their genetic and biological history and the right to develop some kind of connection with their biological parent. Langston also presents the shortsightedness of medical doctors who did AI years ago without thinking through the ethical dilemmas parents and donor children might experience in the future and planning for these problems.

Well written and thoughtful.

Book Details:
Finding Cassidy by Laura Langston
HarperTrophy Canada 2006
237 pp.