Conception by Kalisha Buckhanon
St. Martin’s Press; February 2008
main character: Shivana Montgomery
Have you ever read a book found yourself struggling to finish it and then realized that you just didn’t like it? That’s what happened to me while reading Conception. I was progressing through the read so, so slowly and then I realized I didn’t want to read the book! Why? because the book failed me on three separate levels.
First, I never liked the main character, Shivana . She was a very young, immature girl living in an adult world who made no effort to turn anyone responsible for help when she really needed it. Buchanon did a fine job of developing the character and developing the reasons why the girl felt she could no longer turn to her mother for help. Sivana found herself in a situation too many young people find themselves in today: making decisions based in the adult world while surrounded by adults who exhibit childish behaviors. Shivana never tried to talk to her mother or even to her favorite her aunt for help yet, while on her own, she was quite unable to make a rational, well thought decision. She simply went from one bad setting to another. She had very little empathy for anyone other than herself.
Second, the story provided no hope. A hallmark of young adult literature is that is gives readers hope. This book does not. The author tells the story in the voice of Shivana as well as the voice of her unborn child. This soul eager to take form describes one sad setting after another when she fails to be born. She gives us little reason to believe that she ever will be and even less hope that she should want to be.
Finally, the writing is very uneven and at times more than a little difficult to manage. Buchannons talent shines when she writes
Winter had tuned Chicago into a pencil sketch on a misty gray canvas–thin dead branches, dozens of dull buildings blending into the same outline, the occasional bird cloaked in a dull, gruff coat, the steel El cars bellowing on tracks glazed with ice, stray animals with the jutting ribs that made them appear almost see-through. On my school’s corner, I caught sight of a tiny beige cat balanced on the edge of a garbage can; she ran away with jaws locked tight around her take–a chicken wing covered in red sauce. A couple weeks ago the sight would have made me nauseous, but the bitter cold probably from the liquids inside me before I lost feeling in the solid. Achromatic valley of sky seemed to stretch on for miles without leaves to break it. I saw only one tree shivering with stiff hard leaves hanging on for dear life, refusing to give up and blow away.
But, just prior to this while explaining Shivana’s daily routine, we get such crude, unnecessary descriptions of the girl’s daily habits. Sentences often took several readings to get some semblance of comprehension (a pet peeve of mine!) and at one point Shivana inconsistently mentioned how she felt like a virgin. She already knew she was pregnant!
Conception is set in a bleak, cold Chicago winter where anything attempting to hold on to life will struggle. Shivana wants a life better than she has experienced with her mom, yet she puts forth no effort into school and she has no particular talent. She doesn’t even see herself as particularly attractive. I wish that with all the talent that went into creating this character that I could like her better.