Feminism, Anti-War Demonstrations & Abortion Rights Intersect In New Coming-Of-Age Novel

It’s 1969. Fiona, a brilliant, beautiful art student, struggles to find herself as she lives through the dramatic events of her time: sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll, the first draft lottery since World War II, the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, the Kent State shootings, and more.

Written by debut author, Susen Edwards, ‘What a Trip‘, (November 15, 2022, She Writes Press) is a fast-paced drama that will bring out your hippie side and have you cherishing your college days, young love and female friendships. Set in a tumultuous time in our country’s history, eerily similar to today, ‘What a Trip’ highlights how love, loss, friendship, and personal growth are timeless, universal themes.

In this coming-of-age novel we meet Fiona, an art student at a New Jersey college who is brilliant, beautiful, and struggling to find herself. Fiona’s best friend, Melissa, is in a dead-end relationship, pregnant, and going nowhere fast. After Melissa’s abortion, Fiona and Melissa spend a week in Florida, where they are introduced to tarot cards and the anti-war movement. Following this experience, Melissa becomes obsessed with the occult; Fiona, though intrigued, approaches the tarot cautiously, with the voice of her conservative Christian mother screaming in her head.

After Fiona’s return from Florida, Reuben—a journalism major and political activist she’s been dating—
decides to move to Canada to avoid the draft, and he encourages Fiona to accompany him. But is that really what she wants? Caught between her feelings for Reuben and her own aspirations, Fiona struggles to define herself, her artistic career, and her future.

Author Susen Edwards has generously shared an exclusive excerpt from the book with us, which you can read below. It gives a bit of Fiona’s perspective on the anti-war movement. Fiona and Reuben are in Manhattan for an anti-war rally on October 15, 1969.

Fiona and Reuben intended to stick with the group from the bus but soon realized that was impossible. It was all they could do to stay together as they made their way to Wall Street. Thousands of protesters, mostly students wearing black armbands, peacefully jostled one another as they moved forward. Arms held high waved peace signs, while simple and elaborate posters calling for an end to war bounced to the rhythm of youth in motion. The spirit of the crowd was infectious. 

They melted into the audience, each individual becoming part of a universal wave of energy as they stood waiting for the speeches to begin. Fiona found herself distracted by the chants, the songs, and the intensity of the multitudes. She looked to Reuben, who appeared fixated on what the speakers were saying. 

Unable to stay focused, she turned her thoughts inward. Finally, I’m a part of history. Being here today is probably the most important thing I’ve ever done. She was so caught up in her day- dreams that she didn’t notice when the program ended. 

Reuben gave her a gentle push as the throng began to move. “Hang on to me,” he shouted in her ear. “We can’t get separated.” 

She linked her arm in his as they moved forward. As they made their way north, the crowd thinned, though the energy of the moratorium was still with them. When they reached the Chelsea section of Manhattan, they ducked into a deli. No seats were available. They took their tuna sandwiches and chips and sat on the stoop of a brownstone apartment building. 

“Fuckin’ A, what a day!” Reuben was at a loss for words. “D’ya think Nixon’s watching any of this?” 

“I bet he is, but will it do any good?” Fiona had her doubts. “Hey, did you see the sign that said DROP LSD, NOT BOMBS? That was my favorite.” 

“Yeah. It kinda pissed me off. I’ve got nothing against the drug scene, but I don’t think we should be mixing the politics of drugs and war. Not to change the subject—did you know today is day four of the World Series? My father’s rooting for the Mets. They’re playing today at Shea Stadium. I heard Mayor Lindsay wanted to fly the flag at half-staff, but they won’t let him. Bastards.” 

“My dad likes the Mets too, so I know about the Series. That’s all he’s been talking about. What about you? Do you follow base- ball?” Fiona asked. 

“Yeah, sometimes. Not this year, though. Too much else on my mind.” 

They sat in silence, eating their sandwiches, grateful for a respite from the frenetic pace of the day. 

Bryant Park was much too small to contain the thousands of pro- testers who arrived long before the speeches were to begin. Fiona and Reuben crowded elbow to elbow with people of all ages. A young boy stood in a garbage can holding a simple sign that read END THE WAR NOW. 

“I bet his dad is over there,” Fiona shouted. 

Someone handed them a leaflet announcing the day’s speakers, which included Eugene McCarthy and New York mayor John Lindsay. Shirley MacLaine, Tony Randall, Eli Wallach, and Rod McKuen were also on the program. 

They carved a spot for themselves at the corner of Forty-First Street and Sixth Avenue. The roar of the crowd merged with the sharp peal of car horns and police sirens. Pushcarts taunted them with the aroma of hot dogs and soft pretzels. In spite of the assault on the senses, an air of tranquility permeated the park. 

“It’s gonna be impossible to hear what they have to say.” Reuben had to yell to be heard. 

Fiona nodded, knowing it really didn’t matter. The most important thing was being there to support the cause. 

As the sun went down, the speeches came to a close. Arm in arm, they headed to Penn Station and the final event of the day. 

“Tired, lassie?” Reuben asked. 

“A little. I feel like I need to do something to get the blood flowing in my legs again.” 

“How ’bout we get off Sixth Avenue and run down one of the side streets? That should loosen you up.” 

Turning right on Thirty-Eighth Street, they broke into a run that took them to Seventh Avenue, where they were bombarded with another wave of humanity. Winded but rejuvenated, they joined the throng making its way to Penn Station. 

The final event of the day at Penn Station was a memorial service and reading of the names of Americans who had died in the war. The group was small and lacked the fanfare of the day’s earlier events. Without street vendors, loud protesters, and television cameras, the service left a sobering effect on those in attendance. They left in silence. 

You can pre-order a copy of ‘What A Trip’ by Susen Edwards by clicking HERE.

Author Susen Edwards

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