Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jumping Off Swings

Apparently I am into reading books on pregnant teens lately, because I just finished Jumping Off Swings, by Jo Knowles (Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College, 1995). Told from four points of view (the pregnant teen girl, the father of the baby, her best friend, and his best friend), the story revolves around Ellie's pregnancy, her struggle to decide what to do about it, and everyone's reactions to the news. Ellie has a reputation at school for giving it up easily, and Josh's friends, many of whom have slept with Ellie, encourage him to lose his virginity with her. "Told ya she was a sure thing," one of the guys says. Ellie, who feels unloved at home, can't understand why these boys just hook up with her and then leave her. Ellie admits she feels empty most of the time and hopes these encounters will fill her life, will make her loveable. After her one night stand with Josh, she ends up pregnant. She tells her best friend Corrine, who reaches out to Caleb (Josh's best friend and a boy who's nurtured a life-long crush on Ellie). As the girls spend more and more time at Caleb's house, Liz, his liberal and warm mother (who I love for saying, "Since when does having sex make someone less special?" when Caleb tells her how Ellie will hook up with anyone, and he thought she was different, special) suspects Ellie's pregnancy and Ellie leans on Liz for support, as her own parents can hardly look her in the eyes.

Overall, I felt the novel was uneven. Caleb (who, I guess because of his description of having curly hair and his particular way of speaking and his quiet crush, reminded me of Brian Krakow from My So-Called Life--an image I couldn't shake through the whole book) and Corrine are strong, thoughtful characters. Sad-sack Ellie seems to have almost no personality, and Josh's reaction and thoughts are interesting, but under-represented. The novel does manage to elicit emotion thanks to the characters' honest and varied reactions, but the emotional pull comes from all of the other characters, and not Ellie herself. It's a quick read, so if anyone else picks this one up, chime in with your thoughts.

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