Deb Caletti is the author of nearly 20 books for adults and young adults, including National Book Award finalist Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, Printz Honor book A Heart in a Body in the World, and The Epic Story of Every Living Thing. Her books have won the Josette Frank Award for Fiction and the Washington State Book Award, and she was a finalist for the PEN USA Award. Caletti’s new novel, Plan A, follows a 16-year-old girl who travels from a Texas town to Oregon in order to legally obtain an abortion.
I learned something profound while writing Plan A: one in four women, along with transgender and nonbinary people who can become pregnant, will have an abortion.
One in four.
It’s a number that has stayed essentially the same for nearly a hundred and fifty years, since anyone thought to count. One in four today. One in four for more than a century. One in four in your family history, one in four in mine, whether we hear those stories or not.
I was unaware of this statistic when I began writing Plan A, the story of 16-year-old Ivy DeVries, who makes her way from Paris, Texas to Rome, Oregon to get an abortion. What I did know was that unprecedented restrictions on abortions were creeping into law in early 2021, even before Roe v. Wade was overturned, and I was very worried about the ramifications. I decided to write with that one reader in my mind, the one who many writers, especially YA writers, hold in their thoughts when they work—the young person who badly needs the support of our words. I wanted to offer a realistic, compassionate story, where the abortion itself is a safe and drama-free medical procedure, as they are. A story that was free, too, of the “will she or won’t she” that often drives the plot of such books. In Plan A, as the title asserts, she will. She intends to, and does.
I held other readers in my mind, as well, particularly the ones who might disagree with my views, and I made what I hoped were considered, respectful, and purposeful decisions about Ivy’s story and how it would be told. Primarily, it felt crucial for Ivy to speak in her own, first-person voice. It’s harder to dehumanize a kind, funny, tender-hearted human being who shares their fears and vulnerabilities honestly. Books are empathy builders, and a reader isn’t just in someone else’s shoes—they’re in that person’s thoughts and feelings. Their body. Their choices.
I made another early decision in the writing of Plan A: to share the abortion stories in my own family history. As Ivy travels across the country, the women in her life—friends, mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers—open up to her about their abortions. Those women are my women, my bedrock, the ones on my own family tree. Many of those women were gone long before I was even born, including my great-grandmother who died having an abortion, who left behind two little boys, one who would become my mother’s absent father. Connecting my work to emotional truths in my own life is essential to me. I believe in the power and universality of the personal.
But then I learned the extent of that universality. One in four—a figure unchanged for centuries, which sits next to the statistic that does change: the number of women who die when abortions are illegal. These were not just truths of my own history; they were truths of everyone’s history. They belonged to the one reader I was writing the book for, and to the readers of Plan A who’d disagree with my beliefs. They belonged to the young women denied their rights in 1873 and in 2023; to the people holding the signs, and the women holding the positive pregnancy tests. Those truths belong to partners and family members and friends as well. To the many people who accompanied their daughters and sisters and friends to clinics from the 1800s on. To the men and the lawmakers. To the little children left behind, who would one day become fathers themselves. And it belongs to the many women who’ve already opened up to me about their own abortions after hearing about Plan A, women I’ve known for years and women I’ve just met, echoing Ivy’s own experience of the secret-sharing that’s been going on for generations. “Sometimes,” Ivy’s Aunt Betts says to her, “I look at this tree, and I think our whole family history is people having sex, women and girls getting pregnant, having or not having babies. But then I realize, that’s every family’s history.”
As I wrote this book, I could feel all of the human beings throughout time who have made the decision about their own Plan A. I could feel their pain, their relief, their hope, their struggle. Their choices. Like Ivy, they are, or were, funny, tender, vulnerable human beings, full of love and generosity, confusion and fury. One, two, three, four. Her and her and him and them. I, you, we, all of us—confronting the demands of other people about our very own bodies, whether in a whisper or a shout or a silent act. Facing the command of Here’s what you will do, and saying something that should be extraordinarily unremarkable but is instead astonishingly brave: I get to choose. I do.
Plan A by Deb Caletti. Labyrinth Road, $18.99 Oct. 3 ISBN 978-0-593-48554-5