GIRLS ON THE VERGE by SHARON BIGGS WALLER
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
Girls on the Verge by Sharon Biggs Waller tackles a topic rarely discussed in the YA world, let alone as the main topic of the novel. That topic being abortion. Despite YA’s growth over recent years, abortion is still not something many authors are willing to write about. They might mention it in passing or include a side-character who had an abortion, but it’s never the main focus or part of a main character’s journey. Girls on the Verge challenges that. We follow eighteen-year-old Camille, an aspiring actor, on a journey across the country—and even into Mexico—as she tries to seek access to a safe and (mostly) legal abortion. Along with her estranged best friend, Bea, and another aspiring actor, Annabelle, Camille and her friends embark on a journey that will make you laugh, make you cry—and most importantly, make you think.
An important thing to note about Girls on the Verge is that it’s set in Texas, home to some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. When Camille finds out she’s pregnant, she knows she doesn’t want to go through with it. Despite many forces in her life trying to change her mind—including judges and lawyers—she is steadfast in her desire to have the procedure done. Unfortunately, in Texas, it is very difficult to acquire a safe abortion, which is why Camille and her friends are forced to drive to across the border to Mexico to acquire pills that would terminate Camille’s pregnancy.
Girls On the Verge is at once a road trip novel, a coming-of-age novel, and an “issues” novel. Most of it takes place in the car as the girls travel, but there are occasional flashbacks that explain how Camille got where she is. They’re used effectively—and sparingly, for the most part—and give readers a better understanding of the characters and their motivations. Bea, for example, is very religious and had a very different reaction to Camille’s decision than Annabelle did. The girls put their differences aside for Camille’s sake, though, and I loved seeing their bond grow throughout the course of the novel. Friendship is one of the core themes of this book, specifically female friendship and the power it can give you. Camille, Bea, and Annabelle support one another through Mexico, then New Mexico, until the very end.
The issue of abortion is handled with sensitivity as well. Camille isn’t turned into an after-school special. Her decision is a steadfast one but she has plenty of complex emotions to go along with it. What’s refreshing is that she never once thinks she should carry on with her unwanted pregnancy and isn’t bogged down by misery the whole time. Her abortion is just another event in her life, and the normalization of it is essential to removing the guilt, shame, and stigma attached to women making decisions for their own bodies.
Despite its serious subject, Girls on the Verge is quite funny. I laughed out loud quite a few times while reading, simply because the characters are so goofy and likable. There is a lot of humor to balance out the more somber bits, and a lot of rage against the machine that continues to try and control women’s bodies. That rage translates into a lot of frank discussion about the political debate surrounding abortion, and the laws specific to Texas. At the end, there is an author’s note by Biggs-Waller and it’s just as vital to the story as Camille is. Biggs-Waller has written a timely book, and a very necessary one at that.
You can check out our copy of Girls on the Verge at the Oreana Library!