A technique that might prove daring in other hands leaves first-time novelist Atkins in over her head in this pro-life propaganda masquerading as a postmodern experiment. Fact and fiction overlap in an unsettling (at best), completely confusing (at worst) fashion, as British author Caz Sanderson tells two versions of the story of her life: There's the real one, and then there's her imagined version of what it would have been like if her parents had not aborted her would-be sister years before. The unreal rendition—in which Caz names her artistic sister ``Poppy,'' becomes Poppy's best friend and mentor, and eventually launches a career with her as a children's book writing and illustrating team—is by far the more compelling; Caz's real life in London never becomes more than a sketch, and her obsession with the sister she never got to know is unconvincing and morbid. The real Caz is indeed a writer, but the subject of her work suffers from being only the imagined story of her own life; her fiancÇ Willis is a shady figure who merely flits in and out of the ``reality'' chapters, occasionally falling prey to the suspicion that Caz is concealing a significant secret from him. She is, and the secret, of course, is her obsession with Poppy, whom she refers to as a real person. She has never forgiven her parents, especially her mother, who made the final decision to abort, and a letter from a friend of Caz's at Oxford (it's impossible to tell whether Caz has invented the friend as well) reveals the author's message in capsule form: that by allowing women to have abortions we as a society are ``disposing of our children.'' A far more delicate touch is required of material this volatile; Atkins's heavy-handed approach and controversial agenda overwhelm both these stories-within-the-stories and strip the overall work of readability.
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