Fifteen-year-old Devon seems to have it all together in life. She’s a solid student, a superior soccer player and she’s got her whole future ahead of her–bright and full of promise. So why would a girl like this leave her newborn infant in a plastic trash bag in a trash can outside her apartment building?
“After” tries to answer this question and look at the circumstances and situations that would lead Devon to such a place in her life.
The story opens with Devon on the couch, not feeling well after having given birth. When her mother (who had Devon at 16) comes in from her overnight shift at the local grocery store, talking about a baby found in the alley trashcan, Devon is non-responsive. The police come to the door and upon further investigation, we find out that Devon delivered and discarded the baby. She’s immediately arrested and sent to the hospital for help.
As Devon enters the legal system, we follow her story for two weeks leading up to a trial that will determine if she remains in the juvenile justice system or is tried as an adult. The story of Devon, her pregnancy and her relationship with her mother is told in flashbacks, slowly filling in the details of what lead Devon to the point she was and how she could go without someone noticing her situation. At times, Devon is an unlikeable character, especially early in the story when she is frustratingly non-responsive to not only characters within the story but the narration itself. Once we begin to see that Devon has been forced to be the grown-up to her mother (who flits between dead-end jobs and dead-end boyfriends) and desperately fears becoming her mother, we begin to understand a bit of what lead Devon to the decision she makes.
As a story, “After” doesn’t try to justify the decision. But it does, at least, allow us a character study of Devon to see how this girl who seemingly has it all together can so quickly lose control of the situation she faces.
The story is an effective one at times while at others you may find yourself screaming at Devon to open up and stop withdrawing from everyone and everything. When Devon is abandoned by her mother in the story (her mother moves out of their apartment, can’t be found and doesn’t show up to see Devon in detention), you will feel sympathy for her. But you’ll also feel horrified that she refuses to ask for help from anyone around her, even as you find out that there were people who could and would help if she’d asked.
In the end, the story asks us and the court to believe something that is an interesting idea (if you’ve watched Mad Men, you’ll probably guess it a long time before the novel really presents it) and it one that explains things without absolving Devon on consequences (at least non entirely).
The big problem with “After” is that it’s so concerned with getting to this particular diagnosis and finding that once it gets there, the novel loses steam and just abruptly ends. The ending feels a bit rushed and like it’s trying too hard to end things on a more positive note than what we’d just gone through for the last couple of hundred page (or in my case, couple of hours on audio).