Book Review: Thumped, Megan McCafferty (2012)

February 27th, 2013 6:02 pm by Kelly Garbato

The Sexual Revolution of the Future

four out of five stars

It’s 2036 and the world’s population is in crisis. The Human Progressive Sterility Virus has shortened men’s and women’s reproductive years dramatically; starting around the age of 18, fertility swiftly drops off and disappears altogether. Whereas it once was taboo, teen pregnancy is humanity’s only chance for survival. Teens are encouraged to “bump” – either professionally, for profit or as amateurs, for fun and slightly less profit – and give their “deliveries” (never “babies”) up for adoption.

You might think that these “liberal” attitudes toward sex and childbirth would result in greater freedom and increased options for young women – but you’d be wrong. Teenage girls face unrelenting pressure to have at least one or two children before sterility sets in: propaganda masquerading as curriculum permeates the schools; parents take out loans against their daughters’ future reproductive potential; Surrogettes are treated like celebrities; and having babies is packaged as a form of patriotism. Likewise, women aren’t just compelled to have children, but to give them away – even if this goes against their wishes. Moms-to-be are dosed with drugs to suppress maternal feelings towards the fetus, and surrogate contracts heavily favor the rights of the adoptive parents. “Deliveries” are whisked away before the birth mothers can recover from their drug-induced stupors, let alone catch a glimpse of the human beings they carried and nurtured in their wombs for nine long months.

During their teenage years, girls are treated like baby-making machines – and, as lucrative a “career” as this might be, even the most valuable object is still just that: an object.

In Bumped, we meet two young women who are trying to navigate this precarious world. Long-lost twin sisters, Melody and Harmony are alike in appearance only. Raised in the gated religious community of Goodside, at 16 years of age Harmony has already been married off, and to a man she hardly knows. (But hey, at least they’re roughly the same age; this is a step up from so many fundamentalist religious groups.) Now she’s expected to fulfill her wifely duties, which chiefly include subservience to the menfolk and child rearing.

Adopted by a couple on the “Otherside” of the fence, Melody lives a rather normal life: school, friends, sports. And surrogacy: represented by a flashy RePro agent named Lib, Mel is in negotiations to deliver a child for the Jaydens. After much hemming and hawing, the couple chooses star sperm donor Jondoe to “bump” with her. It’s here that the sisters’ paths cross, resulting in an epic case of mistaken identity (or fraud resulting in rape, depending on your point of view), an unplanned pregnancy, and a breach of contract. Pretending to be her sister, Jondoe unwittingly “bumps” Harmony – and becomes smitten along the way.

Thumped picks up the story some 35 weeks later. At the end of Bumped, Harmony fled back to Goodside with husband Ram in tow, where the two have been pretending to be a happily expecting married couple ever since. Her mental state rapidly deteriorating, Harmony finally decides to escape from Goodside a second time, when the elders threaten to shun her for her impudence – a punishment which includes taking (read: kidnapping) her twins-to-be, when they finally come.

Meanwhile, Melody and Jondoe – both of whom experienced a rather profound change of heart in Bumped – are scamming their adoring fans with a fake pregnancy (and an even faker romantic relationship). A next gen “FunBump,” Artificial Living Tissue Engineered for Reproducing Reproduction – ALTERR for short – is applied to the midsection and simulates the progress of a pregnancy over time, kicking body parts and all. The plan? Play her preordained role until Harmony goes into labor, at which point Melody (with a little help from best friend/mastermind Zen) will reveal the scam in a most public way – and hopefully ignite a revolution.

Fast-paced and written in the same witty voice as Bumped, Thumped is the rare sequel that’s even more enjoyable than its predecessor. As with Bumped, Thumped is written from both Melody and Harmony’s points of view, with each sister narrating alternating chapters. Consequently, many of the chapters conclude abruptly and at key points, only to be picked up much later, after the action has transpired – thus heightening the suspense. Additionally, we’ve already come to know (and hopefully like) many of the characters, so Thumped has that going for it as well. (Just-off-the-bus, always-proselytizing Harmony was grating, and easily the worst part of Bumped; not so here.)

Likewise, the cast is even more diverse (or obviously so): “Chico-Chicano” Zen returns as Melody’s would-be love interest; Ventura Vida, whom we also met in Bumped, is described here as “Eurasian”; Japanese-American surrogate Shoko makes a brief appearance; and not one, not two, but three characters come out as gay (agent Lib, the ever-sweet Ram, and Zeke, another refugee from Goodside). In an interesting twist that’s dropped much too quickly, it’s also revealed that U.S. legislation prohibits the adoption of babies by gay couples – hence Lib’s personal investment in the Jayden deal. (What’s the rationale? Is homosexuality still perceived as a learned behavior some twenty-five years in the future? Depressing!)

The ending, though it comes dangerously close to cheesy sentimentality, works because not all is pulled off without a hitch – and neither do the characters react quite how you’d expect them to. Ash and Ty remain as unlikable as ever, but rather than punish Mel for her dishonesty, they exploit the situation further. Harmony does the unthinkable, and there isn’t a tidy “happily ever after” for either of the story’s budding romances.

Especially compelling is Zen’s vision of an alternate social structure: instead of commodifying women’s bodies and trafficking children (capitalism), why not shift to a system of shared responsibilities in which grandparents raise their own grandchildren, so that the bio-parents are free to be kids themselves (socialism)? That is, if their daughters even choose to become pregnant in the first place: contraception and family planning are not the enemies of human existence, but are necessary to ensuring our continued humanity.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so.)

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One Response to “Book Review: Thumped, Megan McCafferty (2012)”

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

    […] 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 lifespan with a […]

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