Opening this novel, one assumes that it will be a love story, possibly a predictable love story. Even the opening scene, that of Abby’s graduation and valedictory address, shows an attendant Chip in the audience. When one learns that Chip is going to review the events leading up to this moment, there is still nothing to reveal how shocking and serious things will become before the novel reaches its conclusion.
Chip’s life is relatively normal for a young man without a father. He does the laundry, cooks, cleans the kitchen, and pays his share of the phone bill. He and some young friends briefly go through a rebellious stage—growing their hair, not taking showers, letting their grades lapse. That changes for Chip in English class with the study of poetry, and possibly because both Pete and Abby can identify Chip blind from his smell alone.
Before Abby, there was Karen, whom Chip got to know through acting in plays. Abby is also a good actress, although not on stage; she has to act in order to survive. Chip is surprised when Abby enters high school and becomes involved in student activities before school, after school, and on weekends. Eventually, he figures out why she stays away from home.
Although Chip is comfortable in his own home, he knows that it is not a “normal” home, especially when he and his mother go on vacation to Colorado and she spends a night dining and dancing with Jake and Chip stays up until she returns at three in the morning. The character of Jake could have been more fully fleshed out. He flies in from Colorado when Abby...
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Most readers and teachers know that there is no one called “Hadley Irwin.” Two writers, Lee Hadley and Ann Irwin, joined to share their names and talents. Irwin died in 1995, and readers assume that Hadley will continue writing on her own.
In some ways, this novel was an anomaly for the authors. Most of their books are for younger readers, and many do not utilize psychological realism. Abby, My Love came out in the middle of a trend in young adult literature toward examining incest and other forms of sexual abuse. Other topics of serious concern only started to appear in the 1970’s, titles dealing with suicide, anorexia, scarification, madness, and rape. A similar title on which Hadley and Irwin collaborated is What About Grandma, a story about how old people are often seen as disposable in the United States.
Chris Crutcher, Norma Fox Mazer, and Francesca Lia Block have all written young adult novels about incest. It is telling that none of them, and not Abby, My Love, seem sufficient to deal with the incest theme alone. There are always major subjects or plot twists added to this main theme. Perhaps the novel should have been more grim in order to make its point.