23 February 2012

Review 17: Bumped by Megan McCafferty

"A virus has swept the world, making everyone over the age of eighteen infertile. Teenagers are now the most prized members of society, and would-be-parents desperately bid for 'conception contracts' with the prettiest, healthiest and cleverest girls - cash, college tuition and liposuction in exchange for a baby. Sixteen-year-old Melody has scored an amazing contract with a rich couple. And she's been matched with one of the hottest 'bumping' partners in the world - the genetically flawless Jondoe. But her luck is about to run out.

She discovers she has a sister - an identical twin. Harmony has grown up in a strict religious comunity and believes her calling is to save Melody from her sinful intentions. All Melody wants is to meet Jondoe and seal the deal - but when a case of mistaken identity destroys everyone's carefully laid plans, Melody and Harmony realise they have much more than DNA in common."


If you take this on face value, you would have little choice but to find it rather childishly offensive in its frank, simplistic discussion of young teenagers having sex and getting pregnant all for material gain. However, I think McCafferty was attempting to write a satirical look at our society and the way that people seem more and more willing to exchange celebrity and material gain for their bodies and lives. It's weakness is that the satire isn't really strong enough and it's audience, young adults, will the most part read it straight. It's too adult in language for children but it's too simplistic for adult readers unfortunately. I'm not even 100% sure McCafferty was aiming for satire.

First Line: 'I'm sixteen, pregnant, and the most important person on the planet.'

The story of Bumped is that of Harmony and Melody, set in 2036 New Jersey. A mysterious virus means that when humans get to age eighteen, they stop being able to reproduce. This means that teenagers have become valuable property and a society has been created whereby teenagers can auction off their babies to adult couples who can no longer conceive. They are brought up to be as beautiful, sporty and intelligent as possible in order to make them desirable for wealthy couples and are offered college sponsorships, cars and free liposuction in exchange for their baby (although the b-word is never used as these girls see their babies as material possessions to be exchanged).

Harmony and Melody are identical twins but were split up at birth. Melody has grown up being groomed to be the perfect bumping partner, her adoptive parents have ensured she is educated, sporty and beautiful. She is one of the first girls at her school to go 'pro' - to enter a contract arranging through an agent rather where the terms are agreed beforehand rather than finding a couple after the baby is born. Melody has a vague uncomfortableness about the general idea of bumping but is largely unfazed by the whole concept as she has been brought up to expect this. Harmony, however, has been brought up in the Church, a gated community where the religious live. They live in gendered dormitories in plain clothes but everything is still dictated by fertility. Girls wear one colour before they get married, and when they get pregnant they were a blue or pink dress dictating the gender of their child. The difference is that they enter arranged marriages and keep their children (although the children are brought up rather emotionlessly in groups not in family units) and they find the idea of bumping repulsive. The beginning of the story is when Harmony finds out she has a twin sister and sets out to 'save' her just as Melody is given a bumping partner, the celebrity bumping partner, Jondoe.

The story pans out rather as you might imagine it for the majority of the book. Jondoe accidentally meets Harmony who in an attempt to save both Melody and Jondoe plays along to try to convince him that meaningless extra-marital bumping is wrong but ends up falling for him whilst Harmony tries to find her with her best friend, Zen.  That's pretty much all there is to it, plot-wise. I feel like it was an interesting idea but the tone is rather confused - it's a bit too simplistic for an older teen audience but it's pretty graphic about sex despite it all being discussed in the made up slang of the novel. Incidentally I found the very high level of slang somewhat annoying as there is both religious and bumped slang so it's coming from all sides.

It's just a kind a strange tone, it's really light - no-one seems particularly stressed about the fact that no-one is able to get pregnant past 18 or the fact that this means that society is essentially farming children. At one point Melody is annoyed at seeing a really young girl in the birthing clinic but that's about all we get. It should be a dystopia but the characters seem to think they're living in a utopia. Neither Harmony or Melody (or any of the supporting characters) are written with any particular depth, they both have rather simplistic aims and motivations. Harmony does develop some sort of critical thought about the Church and I was glad that the book wasn't all out religion bashing and highlighted that you can decide that a church is wrong without giving up on faith entirely. I think it's supposed to be a satire, hence the it being presented in such a fluffy way but I'm not really sure. It could just be bad writing.

On an aesthetic note, I don't like the cover. I think it looks like a proof copy as there it is so plain with the tiny, tiny tagline across the top. I can see what they were going for but as with the actual novel, I don't think they achieved it.

Ultimately, this was a bit disappointing as it's such a confused book. It's got an interesting central concept but I don't really know who the intended audience is. Is it a satire that doesn't quite work or is it a fluffy book for younger readers with somewhat misjudged language? Either way, it's not super successful. But, it is easy to read and raises lots of interesting ideas, it just doesn't deal with them in a deep enough way. The novel finishes on a bit of a bizarre moment and I'm not really sure where McCafferty will take it in the sequel, but I don't think I'll be reading it. I think it would have been stronger as a one off novel with a bit more depth  to it (and less slang).


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