Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Five Umbrellas: Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Happy Release Day to Megan McCafferty! It's always exciting when one of my favorite authors begins a new series, and Bumped is an impressive departure from the Jessica Darling series. This diabolical satire is highly recommended, even for those who never venture into the YA section. (Note: This would easily be a pick-of-the-week for me, but I wanted to get the review up on release day. It's a monsoon-must for me as I can't wait for Book 2.)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bumped is going to make a lot of people very upset, and that is an AWESOME thing. Megan McCafferty has crafted a dystopian universe where teens are the only ones who can get pregnant and their babies are prized commodities. I don’t read a lot of dystopian fiction because it is often too dark and depressing for my tastes. There is nothing depressing about this tale as it is packed with McCafferty’s trademark snarky wit and sympathetic characters. Sure, the alternate-reality near-future in which the characters live is a bit bleak, but honestly, it’s only a more extreme version of our present society. This is part of the diabolical appeal of the book and the part that will surely lead to lots of controversy: amid all the humor and exaggeration is a bitingly honest commentary on modern society and our current values.

McCafferty states in the forward that she was inspired in part by 16 and Pregnant, but this book is about so much more than just teen pregnancy taken to the extreme. It’s also about the commercialization of absolutely everything from sex to religion and how a variety of different characters cope with this interconnected world surprisingly devoid of real connection. At the center of the book are twins separated at birth. Melody has been raised by the sort of high-achieving parents who typify the worst of this status-driven society. Harmony, in contrast, has been raised by a religious sect that sees themselves as residing in Goodside and everyone else as residing in Otherworld. Harmony and Melody share the narration duties with each displaying a unique first-person POV. (And I have to add that each is completely different from Jessica Darling, the first-person narrator of McCafferty's bestselling series. Some authors who work in first-person end up with protagonists who all sound the same. That's not the case for McCafferty who has two very different voices at work here.)

Harmony arrives on Melody’s doorstep, allegedly to save Melody from her decision to “go pro” and take advantage of her most valuable asset: her fertility. Melody's limited window of fertility has been sold to the highest bidder by a baby broker, but Melody has yet to actually “bump” with the intended sperm donor. Instead, she spends her days helping run the Pro-Am teen pregnancy alliance and waiting to get her own bump. In a society where pre-teen girls wear fake bumps and other girls have bumping parties, she feels a bit like an outsider. Harmony also feels like an outsider in Goodside as she’s an unmarried old maid at 16 who can’t seem to get with the program of arranged marriages and baby making. Both sides idolize teen fertility and center around how to maximize it—they just have radically different ideas as to how it should be utilized.

Harmony and Melody re-connect at a critical point in both of their lives and influence each other’s journeys in very unexpected ways. This is an incredibly readable book—I read it in a single sitting (staying up way too late!), and it’s also totally gripping for adult years as well as the target teen audience. McCafferty has always excelled in cross-over fiction that appeals both to older teens and to adult readers. This particular offering would make an awesome selection for a mother-daughter book club, teen book club, or a progressive book club looking for an unusual title sure to spark a lot of discussion. Due to the subject matter, I’m not sure if I would recommend it to younger teen readers—I know that my 7th or 8th grade self would have LOVED the book, but it might be best shared with a parent for a mini-book club discussion. Older teens will see their friends and celebrities reflected in the archetypes in the book and will “get” McCafferty’s biting satire and wit.

Very conservative families will probably not share McCafferty’s humor, and I can see it being on the “banned” book list. However, this would be a darned shame as this book NEEDS to make adults uncomfortable and NEEDS to make us question the values present in our current society. There are a lot of parallels to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale which became a critic’s darling, book club classic, and is now a staple of feminist literature classes. It would be easy to dismiss Bumped as “just” YA comedy, but that would be marginalizing the hidden value of this book, which is way more accessible than The Handmaiden’s Tale but no less diabolical. Adults who loved Atwood’s tale should check this out as it shows a completely different outcome to a similar dystopian dilemma. And, as bonus, it is hysterically funny in places AND is the opener for what looks to be an awesome series. It ends on a cliffhanger that outdoes even McCafferty’s usual penchant for cliffhanger endings. Our characters are in hilarious peril! Quick! To the sequel! (Which I will be pre-ordering as soon as it becomes available.)

1 comment:

  1. Dang. Just when I didn't need more incentive for my twitching ovaries!!!

    This is another I'd love to borrow. :)