Lula Belle’s Expecting: A Novel has been sitting on our coffee table for the past week and change, except for the evening I spent devouring it instead of going to bed at a reasonable time like I’d planned. The Fiance said that every time he looked at it, he thought the girl on the cover was expecting to give birth to a novel.
LOL, no. Though I would probably have enjoyed that story, too.
Expecting is a YA novel set in an alternative future – or alternative “now” – in which John McCain not only won the 2008 general election but then had the unmitigated temerity to snuff it, leaving Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann running the nation. (Perhaps McCain should have taken a few more Immortal Evil lessons from Dick Cheney before Inauguration Day rolled around.) Not surprisingly, a whole lot of Pretty Important Things went right out the fictional Palin Administration’s front door: Oil imports. Not pissing off the rest of the world. And, of course, abortion.
Enter Sheila, our heroine. Sheila is your average 15-year-old upper-middle-class piano prodigy, harboring a mad obsession with Lady Gaga and a mouth that won’t quit. She’s also, most unwillingly, harboring her rapist’s baby. Her deeply conservative mother wants nothing to do with securing an abortion for her daughter; her father opts to stay out of the argument.
After Sheila gets expelled from her Catholic high school for revealing she’s CARRYING A RAPE BABY OOPS, she heads for the House of Mercy, a state-funded institution for teenage girls carrying pregnancies. While there, she hatches a plan to help a girl in even more dire straits than Sheila herself.
Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of this book is that it’s set in an alternate future – but it doesn’t have to be. With states like Mississippi facing the closing of the state’s only abortion provider, Kansas legislating abortion providers out of existence, and South Dakota having been reduced to years to a single abortion clinic that flies in out-of-state doctors once a month to do procedures, Expecting‘s fictional America of 2011 is only a bit more unnerving than our real-world America today. (At least the Palin administration legislates equal pay for equal work and subsidizes some childcare. So it’s not *all* terror and fetuses.)
Regardless of which side of the political dodecahedron one ends up on, however, Expecting is a book that speaks. Sheila’s stormy and often conflicting emotions about her own predicament are brilliantly presented and entirely human. As she grapples with a world that will force her to carry a rapist’s baby to term – and worse – she grows into a promising sense of herself. Sheila also plays the hand life has dealt her with humor and wit (I snorted into my tea several times during the course of this book).
If you’re trying to make sense of the U.S. “war on women,” grappling (or not) with a pregnancy, or just want a good read that leaves you feeling like you’ve made a great friend, pick up Expecting. Srsly. There’s even a kitten in it.
Related Reading: “ILU-486,” a short story by Amanda Ching, set in a world where fetal personhood is law.