The novel, Conception, is ruthlessly original in the way it handles the subject of teenage pregnancy. Although the plot basically concentrates on the story of young African-American girl deceived by her circumstances and her next-door neighbor’s husband, it also gives voice to the unborn spirit of the child she is carrying.
Fifteen year-old Shivana Montgomery tries to find some answer to her loneliness in the arms of a man, Leroy, who is the husband of the woman next door she baby sits for. Leroy is a selfish drug-dealer who has no respect for other people. After several months of unsatisfactory sex with Leroy, Shivana becomes pregnant. Shivana’s unborn child’s spirit tells about its other experiences and attempts to be born; thus, in doing so, the author, through the spirit’s voice, entertains and informs the reader with stories within the main story. In all its conceptions by the slave girl Yoshi, Darlene, and Tawana, the spirit of the baby complains of the rejection of its right to be born; therefore, it wants Shivana to love and accept it. Shivana, on the other hand, wants to get rid of her baby, but does not have the money for aborting it.
Shivana’s home life with her single mother is a disaster. Her aunt Jewel tries to help her, although she is involved with her boyfriend and with making a better life for herself. An upstairs neighbor, Rasul, takes interest in Shivana and tries to convince her to keep the baby. Rasul, too, is a lonely black boy, who is taken care of by his uncle’s family. Rasul is studying to finish high school and go to college.
Just when Shivana finds the money necessary to get rid of her problem, the baby’s spirit wins, and Shivana goes to a home for unwed mothers. The ending of the story is an unexpected shock for the reader. Some readers might feel that the writer wanted a quick ending and came up with a blow by the hand of fate instead of making the story end with the evolution of the main characters. Whatever this ending may suggest, this story and the stories within it are brilliantly told, and the baby spirit’s voice is poignant and heartrending.
The mastery in Buckhanon’s language is in its vivid and gripping imagery that fits the situation it describes. It is rough when the situation is rough; it is deeply moving when it needs to be.
Conception is published by St. Martin’s Press in hardcover with 288 pages with ISBN-10: 031233270X and ISBN-13: 978-0312332709.
The author of the book, Kalisha Buckhanon, was born in 1977. She has been writing since the age of six. She graduated magna cum laude from and was elected into Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Chicago. She also completed her Master’s Degree in English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago. Her first novel Upstate won the Alex Award and the Audie Award, among other acclaim and nominations. Her articles, stories, and essays have appeared in many literary publications.
In Conception, a young girl begins to learn to respect herself, but the novel also touches the age old themes of survival in a cruel world, giving proof to the idea that fiction is more precise with the truth in it than truth itself. This novel is important in the sense that it seems to be a debate on what life truly is. Then, it also serves as an observation of the treacherous life in the ghetto and what African-American women still endure in our day. In short, this is a book that an avid reader would not want to miss.