I’d been meaning to read Bumped for ages, having previously read and enjoyed McCafferty’s excellent Jessica Darling series, to which I was introduced by my sister back when Sloppy Firsts was first out in 2001. Bumped is quite different in premise to that series, which is firmly rooted in the real world and real world events, being set in a near future earth in which a virus means that almost all people become infertile as adults, making teenagers almost the only people who can reproduce. Thus condoms are proscribed, teenage sexuality is encouraged, and young mothers encouraged to (essentially) sell their children to older couples. Melody makes a few references to other cultures such as “the awesomely abundant Chinese”, but otherwise the book focuses on what is happening in the United States. The book’s told from the alternating viewpoints of separated-at-birth identical twins Melody and Harmony, and each has a nicely differentiated voice.
Melody’s adoptive parents are “Wall Streeters turned economics professors”, and have foreseen this commodification of teen pregnancy, with the most genetically advantageous teens commanding pre-birth contracts from would-be adoptive parents; Ash and Ty have thus done what they can to increase Melody’s value on the pregnancy market – good school, tutors, any number of extra-curricular activities. As a result, Melody has signed up for a good contract with the Jaydens which includes college tuition, a car, and a post-partum tummy tuck. Contrasting with this is Harmony, who’s been brought up in a religious commune, Goodside, whose response to the Human Progressive Sterility Virus is to marry off teenagers within the commune, and measure their worth by the children they produce. At the start of the book, Harmony has stunned her twin sister by suddenly turning up – they have never previously met – at the age of sixteen, when Melody’s on the point of being matched with a suitable baby-father.
Gradually the reader becomes aware that Melody’s lack of enthusiasm for the idea of pregnancy stems from an experience with her friend, Malia. Despite the detachment drugs, despite the cultural pressures, Malia wanted to keep her baby, and blamed Melody for failing to support her. It also turns out that Harmony isn’t telling all the truth, either, about why she’s suddenly left the commune to find her sister. It’s not a surprise to find out that there’s a case of mistaken identity, and the furore which results, but McCafferty runs with it very nicely, setting the story up to be continued (in the sequel, Thumped).
There’s a lot of slang and euphemism, as well as tech speak which takes a little while to get into – calling someone “reproaesthetic” for example, rather than beautiful, or referring to sex to get pregnant as “bumping” – but makes sense within the context of the novel.
It’s a satire on teenage sexuality, though maybe not a very obvious one, and Melody is increasingly angry at the way that her fertility and that of her friends has become a commodity to be sold off. It’s this more reasoned distaste for the process which makes her, in my opinion, a more likeable protagonist than Harmony, who has a capacity to delude herself which is quite extraordinary. It’s something of a shock to realise that Melody’s parents have encouraged her fame for monetary gain, too. I also liked Melody’s friendship with Zen, who’s not a suitable partner, despite his high intelligence, due to lack of height (and his mix of Asian-Hispanic genes isn’t acceptable to those couples who want nice white blue-eyed blond babies to adopt), and how this changes with Harmony’s advent into their lives.
McCafferty presents information in a pleasingly non-info dumping kind of way, but puts the reader in the middle of the story, with things from the past coming out in an organic way. The bit where Harmony and Jondoe make their scheduled public appearances, and he’s mobbed by rabid fans is reminiscent of modern-day celebrity, and is genuinely disturbing.
There are some really mixed reviews on Amazon, so this may not be your cup of tea. However, I really enjoyed this, though with the reservation that the ending is not entirely resolved, and really does require the sequel.
This sounds an intelligent and thoughtful novel, and you’ve done it justice with an equally intelligent and thoughtful review, I think. Another title and series for me to look out for, not to forget the author.
PS The infertility premise reminds me of P D James’ Children of Men but the workings-out are very different.
And Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, too, but yes, McCafferty does something else with the premise which is interesting as casting a light on what teenage sexuality is like now.
A fair number of reviewers on Amazon didn’t like the slang (several didn’t get the satire at all, though, and worried about whether it was a suitable book to give to their teenage daughters), which takes a little while to get into, but McCafferty’s world seems pretty convincing. I’ve recently read the sequel, so will be reviewing that shortly: it’s noted that her vision is only of the US, and that things aren’t the same elsewhere in the world.
Some online reviewers are very puritan in their attitudes to YA literature — you’ve only to read some to realise a transatlantic obsession with grading (what’s suitable for what ages, reading levels, star-ratings and all the rest) to realise there’s a fundamental illiberal streak underlying a proper instinct to protect the child. I tend to ignore these when judging whether to read a book or not…
I think book bloggers are probably less worried by Amazon reviews – though I am often surprised by the frankly poor books which have 4- or 5-star ratings!
I think it’s also due to a complete misreading of the book’s main premises – essentially both girls are uncomfortable with the way their society is treating their sexuality and emotions as not rightfully their own and subject to others’ control.
I personally really enjoyed this book. The way the author drew lines between Melody and Harmony’s respective lifestyles but stayed neutral on presenting one as more right or wrong than the other caught my attention early on, and the appropriate use of teen slang was also a great touch of realism. Honestly, my biggest regret is that I haven’t gotten my hands on the sequel yet!
Most of the negative reviews I’ve seen on this book seem to centre around how people can’t wrap their heads around how parents would actively push their teenagers to get pregnant. It always made sense to me. The fact that it’s essentially the only way to continue humanity and that it can bring prestige makes it seem like an obvious choice, but even aside from that, have these people never encountered the soccer mom stereotype, or parents who push their kids to do any number of things with long-term consequences, all in the name of “your best interests”? I think McCafferty did some great worldbuilding with this novel, and that was part and parcel of the whole story.
It’s been ages since I read Bumped. Now I want to dig out my copy and read it again, and hopefully that will spur me on to finding a copy of the sequel so I can enjoy that too. Great review!
Thanks for the comment, Ria. Yes, I liked that both Melody’s and Harmony’s homes weren’t ideal, but in different ways, and the way McCafferty portrayed her future with its extension of our current social media into something more all-pervasive.
I bought the idea that parents and peers would actively pressure teens into carrying children for others – as Melody points out, if the demand exists, there will be a market. The sequel points out what’s wrong with the system, and its consequences, which I liked, too.
Was it mainly the slang Amazon reviewers didn’t like? And did they not like that there was the slang, or was it that they didn’t feel the slang was internally consistent? I’m pretty patient with slang, as long as it feels like slang that could reasonably evolve that way — I get annoyed when it feels inorganic. (Robin McKinley I am looking at you.)
Partly they didn’t get it, which I thought, on having read it, was pretty poor comprehension on their part. They also didn’t mostly get the satire, or wondered who exactly it was aimed at, or felt chary of giving it to their teen kids to read…
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