In 'The Fight for Midnight,' a teen boy confronts the abortion debate
Alex Collins is preparing for a lousy summer. After getting into some trouble, the 15-year-old has lost most of his friends and is doing community service.
Then, he gets a call from a girl he's had a crush on since fourth grade. Cassie Ramirez is at the Texas State Capitol where then-state-lawmaker Wendy Davis is about to filibuster a bill that would restrict access to abortion across the state. Cassie is against abortion rights and she wants Alex to come support her.
Alex is thrilled, except that he's only vaguely aware of what's going on at the Capitol and never really thought much about abortion. "I'm a guy, so why would I?"
So begins Dan Solomon's new YA novel The Fight for Midnight.
Solomon covered Wendy Davis' real-life filibuster for The Austin Chronicle. "It was wild. I'd never seen anything like it," he remembers.
People of all ages on both sides of the abortion debate crowded the Texas State Capitol that day. Pro-choice activists wore orange. They far outnumbered those against abortion rights, who wore blue.
Solomon says the marathon filibuster seemed to unfold in three acts.
Act 1 was slow. Wendy Davis just started talking.
"What she's saying is boring," says Alex in the novel, "it's like everything she says, she finds five words to say it when one would do."
Davis says she laughed reading Solomon's description of her. "He talks about me droning on and on and, yes, I did that the day of the filibuster," she says, "But I just do that in general. I can't help myself. I'm a very wordy human being."
Act 2 was livelier with Republican senators in favor of the bill attempting, "to break the filibuster." In Act 3, Democratic senators try to stave off a vote, igniting the crowd into loud, sustained cheering, making it hard for the senators to hear each other. "They couldn't get the room quiet until 12:01," Solomon remembers, too late for the vote to count during the Special session.
For teen boys, abortion is "far off the radar"
Solomon wondered what the experience would've been like if he'd been a teenager, "when you're ready for your life to change, kind of at any moment."
He made his protagonist a teen boy so that he could write, "authentically" but also because, he says, "Nobody talks to teen boys about abortion... It's pretty far off the radar for things that teenage boys talk about or are talked to about or encouraged to have much opinion on."
Solomon relates to his characters. His family is Catholic, as is Cassie's. "She's kind of modeled on people like my mom," he says, "and people I know who are very sincere in their conviction around abortion and that abortion is wrong."
In The Fight for Midnight, Alex goes through the messy process of figuring out who he is and what he believes. He wants to fit in but doesn't party like most of the kids in his former friend group. Solomon says he didn't drink or do drugs as a teen and often felt like an outsider because of it.
As for beliefs about abortion, Alex is "a blank slate," as Solomon puts it. During the filibuster, he listens closely to two people who hold opposite views.
We learn that Cassie's mother "had a complicated pregnancy" with her. Doctors suggested she have an abortion. "I'm not just pro-life because I'm Catholic," Cassie tells Alex, "I'm pro-life because I'm alive."
In real life, Davis faced a similar predicament but decided to have an abortion.
"I discovered that I was carrying a much wanted pregnancy with a fatal, fetal abnormality, and I made the decision that was right for me, my family, and honestly, the hoped for baby that I believe deserved the mercy that we showed in that instance," says Davis who is now a senior advisor to Planned Parenthood Texas Votes.
Even before being faced with this decision, Davis was a teen mom.
In Solomon's novel, the character Shireen tells Alex she got pregnant at 17 even though she was on the pill. She was applying for colleges and wasn't ready to become a mom.
The process of understanding can be messy
In the beginning, Alex is just happy that Cassie — the "prettiest" and "nicest" girl in school — is paying attention to him. Before he knows it, he's wrestling with his own position on abortion, and learns how the narrative changes depending on who's talking:
"The senator's talking about the same stuff Cassie told me about this morning, but she makes it all sound shocking and wrong. When Cassie explained how the bill would stop late-term abortions, require doctors to be able to check patients into the hospital, and raise clinic standards, those all sounded like good things. But when Wendy Davis talks about how she's going to speak today for the voices that didn't get heard, that sounds like a good thing, too. I sit and listen for a few minutes as she talks dramatically about 'the dark place' the bill will take us, and how it hurts women and families. But I don't understand how that could be true."
As he watches the political gamesmanship play out during the filibuster he wonders to himself, "Shouldn't the people in blue be trying to convince Debbie Monaghan [a pro-choice character] that everybody deserves to be born? Shouldn't the people in orange be trying to convince Cassie that the lady who was raped shouldn't have to carry that baby if she doesn't want to?"
Davis calls Solomon's The Fight for Midnight "an opportunity" to think differently.
"Even in my very firm positions and beliefs on the right to access abortion," Davis says, "it reminded me to take a step back from that, to think through all sides and to come forward with a fresh perspective."
Davis applauds Solomon for creating characters who came to their opposing positions honestly. "It's not that we should try to convince the other side of this issue that they are wrong, because in their hearts and minds and belief systems, they are very right," she says, "But that perspective shouldn't be imposed upon my choices about my own body."
As for looking at abortion from the male perspective, Davis says, "this is an issue that really belongs to all of us."
So far, that idea hasn't taken root, says Solomon, especially among teen boys. That's partly what motivated him to write The Fight for Midnight.
"You're not sure what your role is here?," Solomon says of the contingent Alex represents. "Here's a role. You can show up."
The audio and web versions of this story were edited by Meghan Collins Sullivan.
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