Book Review: Bumped, Megan McCafferty (2011)

February 1st, 2013 2:00 pm by mad mags

The SyFy Channel Does “Teen Mom”

four out of five stars

The year is 2036 and a viral epidemic is threatening the world’s population. Those infected with the HSPV – Human Progressive Sterility Virus – enjoy just a few precious years of fertility; starting around the age of 18, one’s ability to procreate dwindles and then fails altogether. What was once taboo – babies having babies – is now necessary to human survival.

Consequently, teen pregnancy isn’t just commonplace, but encouraged – patriotic, even: in America, chain stores like Babiez R U market faux baby bumps to young girls, complete with matching stretchy tees that sport catchy, pro-repro slogans like “Do the Deed, Born to Breed”; the local high school openly hosts a “Pro/Am” club (professional “preggers” – i.e., hired surrogates – and amateurs, or those girls who partner with whom they choose and then auction off their offspring to the highest bidder – coming together to make “pregging” sexy!); and especially “desirable” teens are represented by cutthroat agents called ReproReps, who strive to earn them top dollar for their “deliveries” (never “babies”). And, oh yeah, condoms are illegal (presumably along with other forms of birth control).

Whereas sex for reproduction (“bumping”) is practically mandatory, recreational sex is frowned upon for the high school set. Whether through carefully negotiated contracts or masSex parties, many young women strive to deliver at least one or two (or ten, in Zora Harding’s case) babies before their “fertilicious” years pass them by.

Against this backdrop, protagonists Melody and Harmony are two young women whose divergent experiences with female objectification demonstrate the many ways misogyny can manifest itself. Adopted into separate homes shortly after birth, the twin sisters were raised in two very different cultures. Mel’s parents Ash and Ty are former economists who predicted the rise of the surrogate market and groomed their daughter to supply this demand from childhood. Meanwhile, Harmony became a ward of “The Church,” a fundamentalist Christian community that isolates itself from the outside world (“Otherside”) in a suburban gated community filled with abandoned McMansions (“Goodside”).

It’s not until their sixteenth year that the two meet – Harmony, having just entered into an arranged marriage with fellow “unteachable soul” Ram; and Melody, on the cusp of “bumping” with famous “cock jockey” Jondoe, thus fulfilling her contract with the Jaydens – and, through a case of mistaken identity/fraud, both girls’ lives are changed forever. (I won’t reveal any plot details beyond this, since there are a number of twists – some of them expected, others less so – and I don’t want to spoil it for would-be readers.)

Bumped is surprisingly enjoyable. Written in a breezy, fast-paced style, it makes for great escapism – and yet, the text also touches upon some pretty weighty issues involving sex, rape, reproduction, adoption, and human trafficking. (In fact, if you’re a parent whose t(w)een is reading Bumped, I’d recommend that you read along and discuss these subjects with your kid afterwards. These topics are only hinted at, leaving the reader to contemplate these issues herself.)

For example, Melody’s parents didn’t just train her to be a surrogate – they also took out loans against her reproductive potential when she was just a child, thus making an indentured servant of sorts out of their daughter. How can she be said to grant meaningfully consent under such circumstances? If creating, carrying, birthing, and then selling one’s child is so easy, why are the surrogates dosed with drugs to ease their anxiety during “bumping” and sever their biological bond to the developing fetus? Melody encounters a young fan at the birthing center who, at the tender age of eleven(ish), is already emulating her idol by carrying her first pregnancy. Which begs the question: who impregnated an eleven-year-old? Isn’t this statutory rape? And how can a child consent to a contractual pregnancy and adoption, anyway?

Author Megan McCafferty has a distinct voice, mastering the teen speak of the future in a witty and realistic way. Love it or loathe it (I started out a hater, but was quickly won over), the slang is believable if nothing else. Though the book’s target audience is young adults, this 34-year-old devoured it just the same.

As far as diversity goes, Bumped does so-so. While three out of four of the book’s main characters (Melody, Harmony, and Jondoe) are white, Zen is described as Chicano. Additionally, some of Mel’s friend’s names – Shoko, Raimundo, Ventura Vida – are hint at non-white heritage, and there’s at least one gay character (plot twist, and one you’ll see coming a mile away). One of the things that makes Melody an especially valuable surrogate is her white European ancestry – something confirmed by genetic testing – which is revered by wealthy white couples in a time when more racially diverse pairings are the trend. Twenty-four years in the future – and even in the midst of possible species extinction – and white folks are still struggling to hold onto their supremacy.

All in all, 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4 on Amazon).

(This review is also posted on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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4 Responses to “Book Review: Bumped, Megan McCafferty (2011)”

  1. BOP Says:

    That would make some interesting reading from the childfree perspective! In my view, the breederiffic lifestyle is already promoted to absurd levels, and things are almost as bad as the “fake bumps for kids” of this fiction story.

  2. Kelly Garbato Says:

    I know what you mean! If I had a nickel for every time someone has told me that “you’ll change your mind!” about not wanting kids, I’d have a sack big enough to wallop the next person to tell me that.

    On a societal level, though, I think it’s important to note that certain people (white, heterosexual, cissexual, able-bodied, middle-class) are encouraged to reproduce, while others are not just discouraged but sometimes prevented from doing so, resulting in things like forcible sterilization of the mentally ill, or proposals to make contraceptive use a requirement to receive food stamp benefits.

    It’s interesting – the future America in the book is depicted as racially diverse, so that all young women are encouraged to “bump.” Nationality trumps race. And yet, wealthy white couples are still willing to pay extra for the perfect Aryan specimens – even in the midst of a possibly apocalyptic population crisis.

  3. Book Review: Thumped, Megan McCafferty (2012) » V for Vegan: Says:

    […] Bumped, we meet two young women who are trying to navigate this precarious world. Long-lost twin sisters, […]

  4. Book Review: Wither, Lauren DeStefano (2011) » V for Vegan: Says:

    […] I say this about all the reproductive slavery dystopias!), Wither is also reminiscent of the recent Bumped (and its sequel, Thumped), but with a plot that’s somewhat inverted: rather than living a normal […]

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