ABSOLUTE VALUE by Anna  Henrik


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Henrik’s debut novel tells the story of two teenagers dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.

Nate Stanek is about to begin his junior year of high school, and he’s excited to be doing so with his first girlfriend, Gabrielle Brandt. They’ve been inseparable all summer, sneaking away to spend time together whenever possible: “He would never say this to Gabrielle—not cool—but he had it in his head that the two of them were sort of their own little family.” Just as summer ends, however, Gabrielle starts to act oddly. Nate figures out what’s wrong during a visit to the state fair; she vomits while on the Ferris wheel: She’s pregnant. Gabrielle, who’s still reeling from her parents’ divorce, is worried about what this will mean for her future. Will she go to college? Will she even finish high school? She’s certain that her reputation will be forever tainted. Nate is more worried about the reaction from his conservative Christian parents. The possibility of abortion never even enters his mind until Gabrielle brings it up: “I haven’t made my mind up yet, but I’ve been considering maybe…maybe not having this baby at all.” Nate initially reacts with anger, thinking that if a pregnancy would bring on the wrath of his parents, an abortion will get him disowned—but he ultimately agrees to stand by Gabrielle, whatever she decides. She faces her own troubles when she tells her family and friends about her situation; many react more judgmentally than she expected. Can the two high schoolers figure out a solution, and can their relationship survive whatever decision they make?

The style of Henrik’s prose is breezy yet restrained even when she gets deep into the conflicting emotions of her two main characters. She depicts their inner voices in a manner that’s completely believable and yet also unexpectedly poignant: “He’d barely started figuring out who he was, and yet this tiny being inside Gabrielle already contained more of him than he even knew existed. And more of Gabrielle, too. How could she just throw that away?” The book is paced more slowly than most other modern YA novels, and it lacks any melodramatic tendencies. Instead, Henrik simply allows the teens’ situation to play out in an organic way. Nate is flawed but sympathetic, and Gabrielle is heroic without losing an ounce of verisimilitude. The latter’s interest in numerical facts—she writes a blog in which she discusses mathematical concepts, such as the Pythagorean theorem—becomes a motif of the book; it effectively illustrates how some decisions require one to use a cold calculus, as well as the limited solace that such calculations bring. The author seems to have no agenda other than to show how impossibly difficult such a situation can be for those involved. She delivers a book about hope, youth, innocence, the pain of first love, and how major trials in life seem to come far too early.

An affecting YA novel that will linger in readers’ minds.

Pub Date: Dec. 7th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4801-7901-1
Page count: 310pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2019


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