Tuesday, December 7, 2010

REVIEW: Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Bumped
by Megan McCafferty
Hardcover, 336 pages
HarperCollins
Scheduled Publication: April 26th 2011 

Synopsis
When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents are forced to pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and had never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Until now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in religious Goodside, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to bring Melody back to Goodside and convince her that “pregging” for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.


REVIEW: Imagine a world where your only worth is what your body can do for others.  Imagine a world where adults give teenagers the message, “If it feels good, do it!  If it doesn’t feel good, here’s a pill for that!”

No, I don’t mean 2010.  I mean 2010 aged 26 years and on steroids. 

Welcome to Bumped by Megan McCafferty.  Everyone under age 18 in this world is a liability or a commodity, and you better protect your brand if you want to take it to the bank.  So, the question is, how do you decide who you are when your brand, your life already has been determined for you? 

This is Planet Earth post-HPSV.  That’s Human Progressive Sterility Virus to you.  People infected are sterile by the time their bodies reach full maturity.  HIV is a thing of the past in Bumped but unless teens keep bumping so teen girls can get those bumps, humans will cease to exist.  Consequently, their lives are cultivated, regulated and leased by couples who offer the best bottom line. 

The story is told through the first-person perspectives of twins Melody Mayflower and Harmony Smith, who were separated at birth and adopted by two very different sets of parents.  Melody is placed with parents who raise her as a commodity, a high-achieving scholar athlete with ‘flawless’ Northern European DNA that’s sure to make her a slam dunk on the fertility circuit.  Harmony is placed with a devout couple who eschews Melody’s market and image driven world for the uber-religious Goodside – think an FDLS compound minus the polygamous marriages but with color-coded dresses.  Both characters feel stereotypical at first – Melody sounds like a self-absorbed over-achiever, and Harmony is a classic Bible-thumper.  However, the book is set up to follow the pattern of a developing pregnancy with the first three sections titled first, second, and third.  This timeline carries the story, keeps it well-paced, and adds layers of explanation and revelation throughout.  Melody and Harmony’s characters, strengths, personal conflicts and doubts also emerge within this frame.  Finally, a fourth section titled ‘rebirth’ sends the sisters into situations they’re unprepared for, and both are faced with choices they never knew were theirs to make.  Adding more texture to the story are a variety of other characters, the most important of whom is Zen.  He is Melody’s best friend and adds a great amount of humor and genuine emotion.  He also acts as a de facto voice of reason. 

When I first read Bumped, I was stunned.  The 1960s have nothing on free love in 2036, but only unambitious teens have sex without some sort of possible bonus.  Adults are so focused on not only getting a child, but on having the ideal child birthed for them, that an entire industry has popped up around that quest.  The products that stores thrust at these girls to promote pregnancy are overwhelming and begin when they hit the early pre-teen stage.  Agents scoop up young girls for signing contracts faster than you can say Jerry McGuire.  They come under extreme pressure to save themselves for their perfect 'bump' or 'pregg' partner so they don’t taint themselves before hand.  They are matched with teenage boys whose specifications match the paying couple’s desires.  While Melody’s parents have carefully reared her to fully participate in this industry, Harmony is in the same situation with a different name.  In Goodside, girls are betrothed at 13 and married shortly after.  Whether controlled by Church law or the laws of supply and demand, the fertility of teen girls definitely is a commodity in both communities.  The only people who do not seem to have ownership in this are the young women themselves. 

What makes the book shocking is not its subject matter per se, but the manner with which its presented.  We’ve seen similar issues before in other dystopian novels, but in books such as The Giver by Lois Lowry and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, there was a formality in the characters and language that provided a buffer.  It gave you more of an objective space to take in and interpret the setting before you became emotionally involved.  That doesn’t happen in Bumped.  Right from go, you are immersed in a world that’s extremely familiar, particularly from Melody’s viewpoint.  You see her at the average U.S. high school, hanging out at the mall, joking with her her friends, straining under parental pressure to succeed, etc.  They seem like any group of teens you might know today.  So, when you see that they’re treated as wombs for rent, it feels very, very wrong.  It’s akin to your own 13 – 17 year old daughter, sister, cousin or friend saying to you, “Hey, I just got a sweet deal.  A couple is going to pay me have sex with a total hottie while I’m ovulating.  They’ll take the bump off my hands once it’s out, and I’ll get a car, too!  So, you want to go to the mall?”  That’s how Bumped reads – it’s girl-next-door familiar, and that adds both an authentic voice and a frightening level of realism. The true influence over these teens comes not from an ever-present and feared government, but from the same people who are influential today: parental, peer and marketing pressures combine into a triple entente that leaves teenagers with little reason to think, “why?”  Other nuances between this future world and our current one are planted slowly throughout the book.  Things you pick up on as being very strange in the first 'trimester' of the book will have their explanations later on and often will take you by surprise. 

Bumped also is written with a good amount of humor that fans expect from McCafferty's writing.  After the initial shock, you likely will snort at the tongue-in-cheek comments.  It also is the first book I’ve read in a while that gives relevant commentary on actual current issues.  I’m not talking about an ambiguous ‘self vs. society’ feeling, although on an overall scale, yes, that’s in this book.  I’m talking about the media’s current obsession with teen sexuality, pregnancy and the blurring line between reality and celebrity.  I’m talking about financial illiteracy and irresponsibility.  I’m talking about using pills to give and take away emotions so people can ‘perform’ how society expects them to.  I’m talking about producing designer babies.  I’m talking about young women being raised with very little say in their own sexuality. Traditionally, the choice has been between bad girl or good girl with little middle ground.  Bumped takes those traditional oppositions and flips them: the bad girl is suddenly good because society needs her to be bad, and the good girl is mocked - she, too, remains 'pure' but not for the mainstream's benefit, and she gets no monetary kickback.  It's a very public, either/or kind of world. 

Bumped will take you for a ride.  What starts as a test drive between sisters takes you full force into a  head-on crash that lands on one hell of a cliffhanger.  You will read it with ease and cheer on Melody and Harmony as they struggle to decide who they are and what they want.  However, the real dystopian fear factor is how close we already are to this future world.  I predict that parents and conservative groups are going to have some things to say about this book.  Frankly, I am looking forward to the show.  Bumped is not a ‘simple’ book.  The issues it raises are weighty ones: circumscribed existence with limited choices, parental and societal pressures, ignorance, and the effects that all of these produce.  It’s fascinating, provocative and controversial - an important book with something to say being put out at the right time.  I recommend it.

Quotes

"They predicted sixteen years ago, almost before anyone else, that girls like me - prettier, smarter, healthier - would be the world's most invaluable resource.  And like any rare commodity in an unregulated marketplace, prices for our services would skyrocket.  It wasn't about the money, really, not at first.  It was about status.  Who had it, and who didn't.  And my parents did everything in their power to make sure I had it."
-Melody

"Despite her musical name, my sister gives little thought to the sounds hat come out of her mouth.  She doesn't seem to understand that words serve as a bomb or a balm and all too often Melody chooses to hurt instead of heal."
-Harmony, pg 43-44

"Where are you in your cycle?  Oh, WHO CARES?  Let's get you two BUMPING right away.  We don't want another trimester to go by with a FLAT TUMMY.  And not to put any pressure on you or anything, but it would be just BREEDY if you could deliver the goods by next March."
-Lib, an agent, pg. 76

"'Hornergy' is Zen's term for the indomitable athletic edge powered by sexual restraint.  The basketball, baseball and football teams haven't had a winning season in years.  The table-tennis team, however, is undefeated."
-Melody, pg. 147

FTC: I received this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.  In no way was I compensated for my review.

18 comments:

  1. Woo -- glad to hear this is a great read! Megan McCafferty is my hero. Can't wait to start this one.

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  2. I super excited to read this. Great review!

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  3. This sounds like a great discussion book!

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  4. Wow, this one sounds super horrific (in a good way). I've been getting a little bored with the same old, same old of dystopian novels, but it sounds like this one is something really original. I've seen this one around lately, but it wasn't until reading your review that I finally became interested in reading it. Great job! Thanks!

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  5. @Meg and Savannah - it's a really good book - I hope you will pick it up!

    @Lisa - trust me, the conversations you could have on this one are damn near limitless

    @SR - jaw dropping horrific, but in a good way. It certainly started up a few conversations between my mother and I, and now she wants to read the book. For the record, my mom is not a book reader! No, it certainly does not have the same feeling at some other well known dystopian reads - characteristics are there, but it feels like a normal 'today'-like setting but with way better technology and teens being put into an impossible situation.

    -Linds

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  6. Hmm .. the premise of this book sounds a lot like The Handmaids Tale, except, like you say, the setting. The Handmaid's Tale was so well written and so intense, I feel like I would constantly be comparing this book to it.

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  7. IngridLola, trust me: the premise is there, but the books are COMPLETELY different in tone. You will not compare them. It feels like a teen read - there is seriousness in it for sure, but it doesn't have this downtrodden, gotta-watch-my-back feeling that The Handmaid's Tale does.

    -Linds

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  8. Sounds like a good unique book.
    Great review! Thank you

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  9. Fantastic review! Wow, I mean I was looking forward to reading this one before but after reading this, I know for sure that I'll love it. It seems right up my alley. Thank you!

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  10. Can't wait. That very last quote by Melody made me laugh out loud. Megan McCafferty is one of my all time favorite authors, because her characters are so enjoyable.

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  11. Thanks for the review! This makes waiting for April to come unbearable!

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  12. Glad to see all the excitement! Yes, that last quote cracks me up, too!

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  13. Wow, I really love want to read this now! Before, I thought "eh" because I couldn't get into the Jessica Darling series. I love funny books that weigh issues with thoughtfulness yet are still entertaining.

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  14. LOL! Linds, Your tongue and cheek comments had me laughing out loud, "The 1960s have nothing on free love in 2036," and "faster than you can say Jerry McGuire."

    I've been curious about this book since I saw the cover, and I'm so glad to read your thoughts on it. This future seems a little to NOW for me, since I'm baby desperate at the moment. Soon, I'll probably be one of those crazed parents, like in the book. *snorts*

    Still, I'm so interested in that good girl/bad girl parallel you mentioned. Awesome review.

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  15. @Bri - happy to be of service! I hope you enjoy this one - if you are into current issues, you will certainly be able to draw connections.

    @Missie thanks so much! This book was shocking, and it's definitely close to 'now'. Don't be crazed! You'll become a helicopter parent ;)

    -Linds

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  16. I can't wait to read this. It doesn't really sound like my kind of book, but then again, Jessica Darling didn't either.

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  17. Great review! I really cannot wait to read this!

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  18. I am in the process of reading this book. I've read mixed reviews. After reading your detailed, thought provoking review I am confident I not only need to read this book but also know I will appreciate it. I've read Handmaid's Tale and loved itbsoni know this will be an insightful read.

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