Book Review: Bumped, by Megan McCafferty

May 20, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , )

A progressively sterilizing virus renders three-quarters of the world infertile around the age of eighteen, leaving teenagers as the last hope for procreation. Tweens run around with fake baby bumps and high schoolers form clubs to settle differences between amateurs and pros. Enter: Melody Mayflower and Harmony Smith, identical twins separated at birth. Melody has been raised to be the perfect Surrogette, poised to score a lucrative reproductive contract with the world’s most desired stud for a wealthy family. Haromy has been raised in the austere religious community of Goodside, and is determined to bring her newly discovered twin to the fold. Enter: chaos.

Don’t wait for a gradual introduction here: we’re dropped directly into everything, including a world of rich slang that has a way of going over your head for a few chapters. It’s jarring and confusing at first, suddenly thrust between these two characters who trade off narrative viewpoints very quickly, and it’s tempting to rifle through the pages in search of an explanation. If you stick with it, though, the vocabulary gradually envelops you. It’s a very rich slang, with words like “fertilicious”, “reproaesthetical”, “pregg”, and many, many others. Most of them are fairly self-explanatory but there’s a ton of it. Be prepared to be swamped.

This is a book I was really looking forward to, but now having read it I find myself a little ambivalent. It’s an amazing concept, gently poking fun at the dystopian trend (and before anyone goes up in flames, I love a fair number of the current dystopians, but I also love things that poke fun), but I don’t think it quite worked here. The world we’re dropped into is overwhelming at first, and some of that never goes away. After skimming back through, I think I found the reason (at least for me).

It’s too close. We don’t have an exact date, but it’s definitely close. Maybe thirty to fifty years in front of us now. For that kind of massive overhaul, not to mention the technological achievements, there needs to be more of a time lapse. Time for the MiNet- think facebook on steroids meets the EyePhone from Futurama- to be developed, tested, and spread out (and, by the way, I would really love to get a bit more about the MiNet). Time for the genetic testing and the RePro companies to advance, time for the birth rate to be so staggered, just…time. Giving it another hundred years would have done a great deal to support credibility.

Because for me, that’s really the thing with dystopians: I need to believe in the premise. No matter how far out there it seems, I need to be able to believe that it could actually happen. Hunger Games with its bread and circuses? Hello, Ancient Rome. Matched with its artificially perfect Society and its trio-pack of pills? Totally buy it. No matter how far out the concept is taken, I need to believe in its foundation. This story is just set too closely to where we are now for all the advancements and sweeping changes to be taken seriously. Once we doubt that, we can’t help but question everything else that’s going on.

Like I said, though, I love the concept. Tweens and teens are so spectacularly influenced by our social medias and advertising. Little girls running around with First Curse purses and squealing over fake baby bumps is both funny and blood-curdling. The MiNet system- once you get over the fact that it’s apparently an implant that’s controlled entirely by the movement of your eyes- isn’t too far from facebook now. Friend requests, spam mail, the whole squealing celebrity culture…Jondoe doesn’t seem that far from Justin Beiber, really, except that no questions Jondoe’s gender or ability to reproduce. And, of course, the idea that whatever becomes acceptable for the older girls becomes desirable for the younger ones, to the extent that girls way too young are trying to copy it. Anyone remember Bratz dolls, and how elementary school girls were suddenly dressing like tramps? Yeh, think that on a really big scale.

I wish Melody and Harmony were more distinct. Harmony’s every other word is laced through with religious jargon, psalms and witnessing constantly on her tongue, and Melody uses the slang much more freely, but other than that, their voices sound astonishingly alike. Melody’s journey through the book is a little more believable, built much more on the things that have happened and are happening. Harmony is pretty much all over the place. That lack of definition applies to the other characters as well. Jondoe is a cardboard figure, a glint of light in the flash of paparazzi cameras, and Zen, while he seems like a nice guy, is more like an overeager puppy who just hops around waiting to get kicked. He’s a little ludicrous, and while there’s a single thread that shines true, the rest of him is just draped around that one piece.

This book does have some strong, underlying pieces, mostly seen through Melody’s eyes as a peer birth coach. There are genuine horrors to the way the world has changed in response to this progressive-sterility virus, to the way the expectations change and the way people treat one another and themselves. Melody’s gradual realization of this is painful and believable, and makes me look forward to seeing what she does with that in the next two books. Harmony I honestly couldn’t care less about. Which…makes me sad. I don’t need to love all the characters in a book, I don’t even need to like them, but I do need to care about what happens to them, to be in some way invested in their progress. Unless something changes dramatically in the next book, I’m only likely to care about half of it.

I enjoyed the ride, even if I felt like I was only bobbing along the surface of things. It’s a bit bumpy, more than a little choppy, but I’m hoping- really, really hoping- that things get better in the next two installments.

Until next time~

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