Book Review: Ask Me How I Got Here, Christine Heppermann (2016)

May 6th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Nine Kinds of Awesome

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

Public School Kids Always Ask

How do you meet guys
if you go to an all-girls school?

Immaculate Heart Academy
is named for the pure love of God
that flows through Mary’s heart.
But here’s the real reason why
our logo is a hunk of dripping muscle:
five hundred girls in red plaid skirts.

Even if we brushed with garlic toothpaste
we couldn’t keep the vampires away.

Mary’s Parents

Sure, they tried their best
not to treat her any different.

What choice did they have?

After all, she was still their daughter,
and they had promised
God to love her no matter what
crazy shit her body could do.

The summer before her junior year of high school, Addie becomes pregnant and decides to have an abortion. In a refreshing twist, her parents and boyfriend are wholly supportive of Addie, and her decision: Nick accompanies her to the appointment, and mom and dad sign off on it without argument (Addie lives in Minnesota, a state that requires parental consent).

She isn’t conflicted about her choice, but Addie does slip into a bit of a depression or malaise after the fact. Worried about disappointing everyone yet again, she mostly keeps “Hurricane Addie” to herself. She withdraws from Nick and loses interest in classwork. She quits the cross-country team – which was supposed to fund her college education – and starts spending her afternoons at Java Joes, so her parents are none the wiser. There she runs into Juliana, another former track star from Immaculate Heart Academy, who is dealing with her own capital-s Shit. And then, slowly, Addie finds her way back to normal: her new normal.

As much as I believe that abortion needs greater representation in popular culture, stories dealing with the procedure make me nervous: will they be too preachy? Anti-choice? Slut-shaming? Misogynist? But the synopsis for Ask Me How I Got Here looked fairly reassuring, and Book Riot’s glowing review sealed the deal for me.

As it turns out, Ask Me How I Got Here is pretty effing great. Although Addie does withdraw after her having an abortion, she never second-guesses herself; she knows, 1000%, that it was the right choice for her. Yet there’s no escaping society’s conflicting views on abortion – especially when you attend a Catholic school. In lessons on compassion, Addie’s forced to listen to her classmates’ ideas of how women who have had abortions should react: with shame, guilt, and remorse. Addie feels none of this, though her peers’ conservative leanings do force her to keep it a secret: she doesn’t even tell her best friend and teammate Claire, which only adds to her feelings of isolation. It isn’t difficult to imagine that Addie’s experience might have been more positive – or at least neutral – if everyone around her was as accepting as her parents.

Ask Me How I Got Here is a novel written in verse, which I know some readers find gimmicky; but I enjoy the change of pace, and I think it works quite well here. Many of the poems are works of art – sly feminist masterpieces – on their own, and they all come together to create a lovely story worthy of multiple readings. You can fly through the book rather quickly, but why would you want to? These verses are meant to be savored. Addie’s poems are even tied to the story’s ending, which made my heart swell.

Also, there’s a really great #WNDB twist that I won’t mention because spoilers, but you’ll know it when you see it.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Yes! When she becomes pregnant the summer before her junior year of high school, Addie has an abortion. Though her parents and boyfriend Nick are supportive, she slips into a funk – that is, until she befriends Juliana, a (graduated) track star from her Catholic school, Immaculate Heart Academy. After an almost-suicide attempt, Juliana has been seeing a shrink. She and Addie fall for each other and begin dating.

Addie’s lay history teacher is named Ms. Tran. Most of the characters don’t receive physical descriptions (this is a novel written in verse).

Animal-friendly elements: n/a

 

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