Monday, February 27, 2012

A new theme in teen lit?

I guess it's not really new...but there are definitely some new takes on the theme of pregnancy, both realistic and fantastical. The trend towards dystopic novels--books set in the near or far future, usually a bleak one with problems for the human race--has spawned a bunch of books with pregnancy (or lack of) as either a main or subsidiary theme.

I just read one in which it is THE theme--Bumped, by Megan McCafferty. In this future, people tend to become infertile (due to a virus) by age 20, so young girls have started "pregging" for dollars, for infertile couples who want a baby. Bumped revolves around identical twins, Melody and Harmony, who were separated at birth and adopted into two very different backgrounds. Melody's progressive professorial parents encouraged her to become the very first girl at her school to sign a pregnancy contract, while Harmony was raised in a religious commune in which girls are committed to arranged marriages by age 12 or 13. The premise was interesting, but the book was kind of silly and improbable (twins = mistaken identities), and was also an obvious set-up for a sequel, which is disappointing when you reach the end only to realize it isn't.

I recently reviewed another book here, with a future world view that made early pregnancies a must--Wither, by Lauren DeStefano. That one was a more serious (and better written) example, and also a more complete story (though sequels are pending for that one, too).

But my favorite so far is a present-day, realistic treatment of the topic by writer Han Nolan, who specializes in stories about teens in difficult situations. Pregnant Pause is about Eleanor (Elly), who at age 16 had sex exactly once with her (loser) boyfriend, Lamont (Lam), got pregnant, tried to pretend it wasn't happening, and ended up confessing the pregnancy to her missionary parents at five months. They are on track to go back to Kenya, where they have a mission (ironically) to care for AIDS babies, so they pressure Elly and Lam into marriage, and then dump her with her in-laws for the summer until she delivers. The MIL and FIL (mother-in-law and father-in-law) run a fat camp for kids, and while Lam does a desultory job as a lifeguard, Elly is detailed to assist with crafts and teach a dance class, even though she knows nothing about either and is also seven months pregnant. Nolan does a masterful job of writing this from the viewpoint of a 16-year-old, and Elly's thoughts and plans jump around from giving up the baby to her barren sister or to her in-laws (when things are going badly) to keeping the baby and moving to Boston (when things are going well). The story builds nicely to the resolution, and I'm happy to say this is a stand-alone book that stands alone quite well!

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