The Whitsun Daughters

Dutton. Aug. 2020. 224p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780735231955.
Gr 8 Up–Mesrobian’s take on abortion and teen sex is deft and straightforward. The setting is Minnesota, where teens today need parental consent for a legal abortion. Blonde 19-year-old Poppy has a different idea when her younger cousin Lilah, also blonde, gets pregnant: Poppy sets about performing an ME, or menstrual extraction, herself. As the cramping that will lead to a miscarriage begins and ends over the next 48 hours, Poppy never leaves Lilah’s side, ignoring Lilah’s dark-haired little sister Daisy. Fifteen-year-old Daisy wanders off to the hayloft of an old barn they played in as kids. There she runs into Hugh, a childhood friend who’s now 19 and also Poppy’s ex, and their sexual encounter—which Daisy’s not sure she wants—makes her feel like “an understudy for a real girl.” Later, Daisy learns more about what pleasures her in an explicit shower scene with Hugh, though Hugh is still in charge and shuts down their brief tryst. Although the plot wobbles sometimes from its own weight, Mesrobian intersperses, in alternate chapters, the sympathetic voice of Jane, a 19th-century Whitsun foremother. From the grave, Jane recalls a love affair and stories of babies born and unborn, without conferring judgment.
VERDICT Abortion and explicit sex are handled responsibly in this charged novel of risky behavior, friendship, and family history.

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