Saturday, October 18, 2008

Conception by Kalisha Buckhanon

Where to start!!! I am blown away by this novel. Taking place in 1992, Conception follows the story of Shivana, a young woman living in Chicago's South Side, leading up to and including her unplanned pregnancy. The father is the married neighbor for whom she babysits, the only person in her life who makes her feel desired and appreciated. Shivana has never known she can have dreams of more than the stereotypic unwed, Welfare mother. As she struggles with her depression, poverty, rage, and potential she meets Rasul, a young man she thinks she can "real love" not "hot love". The other narrator of the story is Shivana's unborn fetus, a soul who has had three other mothers and never made it to birth. The soul's story weaves through Shivana's, detailing quite a bit of history including slavery, lynchings, and police brutality. The soul is pleading for Shivana to hang on and give birth, an option Shivana is not sure she can manage.
Without giving away anymore of the story, this is one of the finest novels I have read in a while. Shivana's voice and plight are real and painful. The writing is captivating, not an easy read, but one that had me sucked in entirely. The blending of the fetus' past and present was seemless and gut-wrenching. Oh my, this novel did a number on me!
However. I have no idea why this is being marketed as a teen book. I see this as a shoe-in for an Alex Award, but I am afraid that many libraries (particularly schools) will not place this in the teen area. Buckhanon does not shy away from sexual references ("unprotected, into my silky young softness for the second time that night."), there is intense deliberation about abortion and what to do if one can't afford it. ("Help me. Get rid of it" "What you mean, Shivana?" "Girl, just jump on me" "Uh-uh! Nooo! Don't even ask. I ain't tryna kill no baby..."), and obviously no chance of a happy ending. Not that I believe we need to be plying teens with happy endings or safe books, I just wonder how we can get this out there.
Do I think it was the best book I have read in a long time--yes. Do I worry about Conception's ability to be accessed by teens--double yes. Does it fit our criteria--oh yes. I am going with a YAY, and can't wait to hear what others have to say.

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