February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Debut YA Author Bonnie Pipkin on “Aftercare Instructions” and Abortion

Traveling back and forth between New Jersey and New York City, 17-year-old Genesis has an abortion, loses her boyfriend, gains a handsome new friend, tries out for and lands a spot in a play, and discovers revelatory information about her recently deceased father, all in little over a week. To say that Bonnie Pipkin’s debut is a romp would be an understatement. Yet for all the turns in plot, Aftercare Instructions (Flatiron Bks., Jun. 2017) is a smartly written, thoughtful exploration of abortion and the ever-changing nature of personal relationships. As the book’s title suggests, it’s about what happens afterwards. SLJ chatted with Pipkin about her writing process and what she’s working on next.

Photo by Stephanie Levy

What has your debut author experience been like so far?

My experience has been very positive. I’ve gotten so much support from Flatiron, and I’m super excited to share this book with the world. In the weeks leading up to my launch, I wanted to do something that would help people get to know me, so I shared some pieces of myself and also gave to the organizations that inspired my story originally. So, the first was a daily gratitude post on Instagram to spotlight someone I thanked in my acknowledgements, and the other was for a Facebook fund-raiser for Planned Parenthood, to raise money for this organization that has been so important to me. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming, and I’m so thankful for my community.

I was immediately drawn to the narrative structure of Aftercare Instructions, specifically the use of stage scenes to retell past moments in Genesis’s life. Did you know from the outset that you wanted to mix prose with playwriting?

I didn’t know at all! I first wrote the story chronologically starting from the abortion, and I kept getting feedback from my agent, Emily van Beek, that she couldn’t understand why Genesis was pining over someone [ex-boyfriend Peter] who did something so horrible to her. A relationship is more than the end though, so it finally clicked that I would have to show them falling in love. Then I thought about how we process our memories and distill them into scenes and moments, so I played with that idea. And finally, since theater is a big theme in the story, it seemed fitting to write it in that format. You know that feeling when you look back on your life and it seems like a movie or a play? That’s what I was attempting to convey. Theater has also always been a big part of my life. I was active in the downtown weirdo community theater as a teenager in Chico, California. [Later,] I was a fund-raiser for FringeNYC for nearly a decade and I also worked with inner-city teens to write and produce plays for many years. It was actually kind of a last ditch effort to solve the Peter-villain problem to write it like this. As I was writing it, I didn’t tell anyone what I was planning. It almost felt like I was doing something naughty, and that helped me write it!

Most stories that involve abortion tend to center on the protagonist’s choice whether or not to have one, but here the abortion happens prior to the book’s start. What inspired you to take a different approach?

It was really important to me that the choice never be questioned and to approach this topic without shame. By taking this angle, the aftercare, I hope to drive home that even if you yourself have never had an abortion, there are definitely many women in your life who have already made the choice. And life goes on. Writing the journey to Gen’s choice felt too after-school special to me. I’ve read some feedback that it was a missed opportunity, but I don’t see it like that. I think that the conversation is normalized when we accept it as a choice that many women have had to make in their lives, and it doesn’t have to define them.

Each chapter title is a riff on a typical instruction offered to someone who has had an abortion. Was this something you knew you wanted to play with?

This was a more conscious effort and choice than the play script format. I wanted to play with the idea that yes, you do have to heal physically from this procedure, but it’s often the other stuff going on in your life that you focus on and deal with more acutely. I kept a list on hand of the “aftercare instructions” and then tried to match one of them with the emotional tone of the chapter.

The friendship between Genesis and Rose was just spot-on. How did you go about building their relationship?

Wow, thank you. I’ve always had really amazing and supportive close girlfriends. I think that my personal experience is definitely the starting point in crafting this bond. Then it’s about the secondary characters, the best friends, being well-rounded themselves, and not just there to move the plot along.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on another contemporary realistic young adult novel that’s based on a very personal experience. Not many people have seen it yet, but I should be ready to share it soon! There’s been a lot of noise and excitement with the Aftercare Instructions book launch so that I haven’t had a lot of focused time to write, and I’m very much looking forward to having that time this summer. After a big blow out celebration, of course! My aftercare instruction to myself is to celebrate and savor the special moments right now.

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Della Farrell About Della Farrell

Della Farrell is an Assistant Editor at School Library Journal and Editor of Series Made Simple

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