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Review: Shauna’s Great Expectations by Kathleen Loughnan

on May 20, 2019

Shauna’s Great Expectations
Kathleen Loughnan
Allen & Unwin
2019, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A fresh and compelling novel about an Aboriginal scholarship student and her surprising final year of school.

Shauna is in her final year at an elite private school and has great expectations. She holds an Indigenous scholarship and is determined to be the first member of her family to go to university, no matter what. The year is off to an excellent start and she and her friends are dreaming big about life after school and planning a trip to Paris.

But suddenly she finds she must make a choice that threatens to throw all her plans into disarray. As pressure builds from every corner of her world, Shauna wonders what she’ll have to sacrifice to keep hold of her dreams… Can she fulfil her own promise and still keep her promises to others? Will all her expectations be ripped away?

***Just a warning, this review will contain things that people may consider to be SPOILERS as I’m going to talk about what her choice is, which the blurb I’ve copied here doesn’t reveal***

So I received a copy of this and I was quite interested because the protagonist is Indigenous and from what I’ve heard, this is an own voices novel (from other reviews, I haven’t seen anything to confirm that elsewhere though). Indigenous voices are important in Australian literature and in Australian young adult literature. Shauna is from rural NSW, attending a prestigious boarding school in Sydney on an Indigenous scholarship and she’s about to enter her final year. Shauna will be the first in her family to attend university.

So this was a promising start. I enjoyed the depiction of the school in some ways (although oof, some of the views from some of the other students felt very old fashioned but perhaps they’re the case in wealthy, mostly white schools, I’m not sure. If so, that’s a very sad fact because the casual racism directed at Shauna’s heritage and toward the other Indigenous scholarship recipients is heinous). But there’s no denying that the further into this I got, the more I found some aspects of the plot problematic.

Shauna discovers that she’s pregnant – thanks to a chance encounter in the holidays before she began year 12. Although they took several precautions to avoid this, it seems they failed. With so much riding on her future, Shauna’s first thought is to have an abortion and she makes arrangements by seeing a GP for a referral to a Sydney clinic, borrowing some money off her cousin etc. But what happens at the clinic I found really troubling, especially in this current climate.

The attempts by states in America to push through some of the strictest abortion laws are very troubling and the anti-abortion rhetoric is becoming more and more out of control. It really bothers me that decisions about a medical procedure for women who face all of the physical, emotional etc consequences of an unwanted or incompatible pregnancy are mostly being made by men and I found it an interesting choice that the author chose the staff that attended Shauna at the clinic to be male (and rather arrogant, rude and dismissive). This felt like it would go against procedure. Firstly seeing a man for a teenage girl would probably be distressing and although that sometimes probably can’t be avoided, the behaviour of the medical person was very unprofessional. They’re there to provide a medical service and when she’s in the waiting room, Shauna spots someone coming out that she assumes has just had the procedure. The level of hatred and judgement toward her out of no where is astounding and as a reader, very disappointing. This sort of attitude towards women who have an abortion is disgusting and it gets worse when she enters for her own appointment. The doctor is sarcastic and judgemental (particularly towards her being Indigenous) and dismissive of Shauna’s reasoning which is annoying enough but he has to write one down for the records/legality. He makes one up and Shauna immediately baulks at it and it’s almost like her pride gets in the way of the procedure now, because she won’t let him lie on the damn form. It’s probable that it’s just her way of not having to go through with the procedure but instead she storms out after telling him he should be ashamed of himself for what he does, by which she means being an abortion provider, not being an asshole. If Shauna had to come to a reasoning that really she did want the baby and was mature enough to go through with it, this scene did not at all make me feel that way.

Okay, so she’s chosen to have the baby and won’t be having an abortion. The next thing that I felt problematic was that after that, Shauna basically ignores it which is the second not good message to send. If you want to portray your character as responsible and mature enough to choose to have a baby at 17, then perhaps you also need to make her responsible and mature enough to deal with the pregnancy, by having the various medical tests and procedures that help ascertain that everything is going well and cares for the mother and the baby’s welfare. You don’t have to have every test they offer you but Shauna doesn’t do anything for months. Pregnancy is not always an easy process. Many people are lucky enough to have trouble free ones but many are not. There are some real significant health issues that can arise in pregnancy and spending months ignoring its existence in terms of receiving the appropriate medical care was something that really, really bothered me. I didn’t find it cute that she named the foetus but wouldn’t actually go and get checked out. I’m not saying teenagers can’t be mothers – my own stepdaughter had a baby at 17 and she’s a wonderful, caring mother who has sacrificed time and time again, giving 100% of herself. Of course they absolutely can. But if they (or any other woman) do not want to have a baby for any reason whatsoever, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with them choosing the other option as well. Forced birth is draconian and it’s time to stop judging women for what they do with their bodies and make sure they have autonomy and choice. Even Shauna’s own mother, when Shauna finally confesses she’s pregnant, says something like no daughter of mine would have an abortion. Shauna is of age where her she can make her own medical decisions. Her own mother saying she basically wouldn’t allow it further reduces her agency (it’s already too late and irrelevant but I felt it was worth mentioning because it further reinforces the anti-abortion agenda that permeated this novel).

All of that was so, so disappointing to me, because I felt other portions of the book were interesting, particularly Shauna’s fight to stay in the private school once it becomes public knowledge that she’s pregnant. Shauna comes across as strong and determined in that part of it, which I felt was admirable. But so much of how I feel about this book is because of the way it treated women and abortion as a safe, legal choice. I don’t want to go the path of America. I don’t want people to be forced to have babies they didn’t plan for, or that are damaging to their health, or the result of rape or incest. I don’t want women to have to provide a reason for wanting an abortion that a man approves of. I don’t want embryos that implant in Fallopian tubes to be reimplanted into a uterus. I don’t want people (women) to be looked down on, seen as less for making this choice. Basically I want everyone to mind their own damn business and let people do what is best for them. And if that’s an abortion, then fine. If it’s not, fine. Anything else is really, really damaging.


Book #70 of 2019

Shauna’s Great Expectations is book #33 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019



2 responses to “Review: Shauna’s Great Expectations by Kathleen Loughnan

  1. Woke says:

    Oh, come on, Bree, this is a misrepresentation of the book and an excuse for a pro-abortion rant. If you were really pro-choice, you wouldn’t criticise a girl who chooses not to have an abortion on moral grounds. The character sees an ultrasound image of her baby, sees her baby’s body parts and heartbeat, and decides that she can’t kill it. That’s a reasonable basis for not having an abortion. Nowhere in the book is it even suggested that abortion should be illegal, though in NSW it absolutely is illegal and that is presumably the reason why the abortion doctor fudges non-existent motivations for the proposed abortion in Shauna’s paperwork.

    As for being critical of a teenage girl for not seeking medical intervention in a pregnancy immediately, it’s easy to understand why girls don’t ask for help in the face of such judgment. Surely you’d agree that it’s safer for the foetus to develop in an unsupervised pregnancy inside a healthy young woman than to be torn to pieces during an abortion and chucked out to decompose with the hospital waste.

    I wonder, too, why you initially posted a rating of 3/5 on Goodreads and then changed it to 2/5 immediately after another reviewer gave it 1/5, also citing Alabama abortion law reform proposals. It’s almost as if you wanted to signal your virtue. If Alabama succeeds in outlawing abortion it will only be as backward as NSW is already.

    Your comments about the racism in the book seeming old-fashioned are really ignorant and might be offensive if only your commentary were otherwise to be taken seriously. BTW, Aboriginal families love babies and Shauna’s mother’s attitude is commonly held among Aboriginal women. Ask some of your Aboriginal friends, Bree, and I’m sure they’ll point out the cultural mistakes that stand out like dog’s balls.

  2. […] Shauna’s Great Expectations by Kathleen Loughnan. My review. […]

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