My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi ( blog | tweet )
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: HIV, theatre, tough family situations
Format read: ARC provided by Publisher. (Thanks!)
Summary: After a particularly bad day, Lucy escapes to the city with her best friends for some spontaneous fun. But a foolish move changes her whole life when she contracts HIV. How can she tell her parents? How can she tell her friends? What does this mean for the rest of her life?
Back in college, I was part of a theatre troupe called “Better Choices / Better Chances” and for a few weeks in the spring, we toured middle schools and high schools in our area to teach them facts about HIV/AIDS through a series of serious, funny, and pop culture-y skits (that we wrote ourselves). This is why I was so interested in My Life After Now. There is only one other book (Positively by Courtney Sheinmel) that conquers HIV in the young adult genre, and this is a subject that needs to be discussed more frequently.
Let’s start that the beginning: after Lucy loses her prized role in the school play (an awesome adaptation of Romeo and Juliet) and her main squeeze, she decides to do something very un-Lucy like and totally let loose. It’s like this: dress hot, get into a club, meet someone in the band, get drunk, and then wake up and not know what the hell happened. That foggy part is when things get bad. Lucy realizes she had unprotected sex, and when she gets tested, finds out she has HIV.
This is, indeed, devastating. Lucy goes through a roller coaster of emotions, and doesn’t know where to turn or who to turn to. Her life is set on an entirely different course than it was a little awhile ago. What should she do next? While Verdi does a good job of telling us about Lucy’s actions, the lack of showing them caused me to connect very little with her character. Even the brighter moments didn’t have the right emphasis because the small details (like getting to know a new boy) seemed glazed over.
There were moments when Lucy surprised me in great ways, and others where I couldn’t believe she continued to be so naive. I would have expected her diagnosis to wake her up a little, but she continued to make decisions that left me shaking my head. Verdi also depended a ton on her main character as she was forced to wade through many other issues on top of HIV (including a very unstable biological mother). With a little finesse these could have worked in the story, but the multitude of heavy storylines made My Life After Now feel top-heavy to me.
I did have a soft spot for chapters named after songs from musicals (try to guess which is which!), Lucy’s uber-supportive dads, and the vivaciousness of Roxie, a gal Lucy meets at her support group. Though I am glad I found such a rare subject in my reading, I do wish My Life After Now would have branched out beyond its subject (less Rent references?), educating readers a bit more organically and, therefore, truly connecting us to Lucy.
Sidenote: Ironically enough, this article about a study about 14 adults living with HIV popped up right after my reading of My Life After Now.
And now a few words from Jessica Verdi, the author of My Life After Now:
EH: HIV is a pretty rare topic in the young adult genre. What inspired you to take your book in this direction?
JV: My primary inspiration for writing My Life After Now was a friend of mine, actually, who is HIV-positive. We both read a lot of YA and we realized that there are so many books about pregnancy, drinking, and drug use, but not very many about sexually transmitted infections—which is surprising, considering how many teenagers are in fact having sex. Young people ages 13-29 make up about 40% of all new HIV cases in the U.S. every year (mostly as a result of having unprotected sex), and that number is only increasing. So, to me, the lack of discussion about HIV/AIDS in teen literature was inexcusable, and I wanted to do something to help fill the gap.
EH: I saw when you first announced your book deal that the title was On the Plus Side. What went into the decision to change it? And were there any other significant changes to the actual story?
JV: My editor felt strongly (and rightfully so) that the title On the Plus Side would mislead people into thinking this is a pregnancy novel. So I knew from very early on in the acquisitions process that the title would be changed—I just didn’t know to what! I’m terrible at coming up with titles, so I was happy to leave that to the experts. Luckily, I love what they came back with. I love how the title My Life After Now leaves you with the question of, after so much goes wrong, what happens now? That’s essentially what this story is about.
Otherwise, there weren’t too many significant changes to the story during the editing process. Lots of clarification, cleanup, and adding of scenes, but overall the general story has remained the same.
EH: It’s so apparent the amount of research that went into My Life After Now. I think Elyse and Evan’s reactions really demonstrate the stigmas attached to this disease. What was the most eye opening about your research?
JV: I did a ton of research for this book, and one of the most surprising things to me was that there have been so few books written about children/teenagers and HIV. Not just in novels, as mentioned above, but also in non-fiction and academic books. I only found one academic book in the whole of the enormous New York Public Library system that was dedicated to the subject. That was so crazy to me, since there are literally tens of thousands of young people in the U.S. living with HIV/AIDS, many of whom have had it since birth. This discovery of how few books have been written about the subject only renewed my determination to write my own.
EH: Backtracking to the “rare topics in YA” question, what are some subjects that we don’t see nearly enough?
JV: Ooh, good question. Definitely STIs of all kinds, not just HIV. Another subject I would love to see more of is adoption and the foster care system. And I think we don’t see transgendered main characters nearly enough.
EH: As a musical lover, which do you recommend for young adults? (I personally like to share my affection for Next to Normal and In the Heights… so much fun to listen to at home!)
JV: Those two are awesome! I also love Rent, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Ragtime, Legally Blonde: The Musical, Aida, The Wild Party (the off-Broadway one, written by Andrew Lippa), Tick, Tick…Boom!, and A Chorus Line. (Though there are so many others. We could be here all day!)