Last week, I read a book that I could not put down. Even when I paused to gasp or to ponder what I’d just read, I only stopped long enough to process my thoughts, and then I immediately went back to turning pages as fast as I could. I was stunned and excited, and it was fantastic.
I was not reading a Harry Potter book. I was reading Bumped, the latest novel by Megan McCafferty of Jessica Darling series YA fame. She sucked me in, took me on an incredible ride, and stopped at the edge of a cliff. But then she promised me a sequel, so we’re cool now.
Bumped is based on the premise that, sometime in the near future, HIV has been cured, but 75% of the world’s population suffers from the Human Progressive Sterility Virus (HPSV). Effectively, no one over the age of eighteen can conceive a child. Human fertility spans from puberty to the beginning of legal adulthood. For sixteen-year-old New Jerseyian Melody and her friends, life consists of school, activities, and the high-stakes teenage surrogate market. Wealthy adults pay big bucks in college tuition, cars, and six-figure signing bonuses to convince teen girls to conceive with hand-picked teen boys, carry the children to term, and turn them over immediately after birth. Melody has an enviable contract lined up and is just waiting for the parents to pick the boy she’ll “bump” with when the twin sister she never knew she had shows up on her doorstep. Harmony has grown up in a strict religious community, awaiting the day when she can fulfill her feminine promise of motherhood, but when she finds out about Melody, she finds an escape from her own secrets in the chance to save her sister from the sin of “pregging for profit.” Chaos ensues.
Bumped was amazing, but it is not without its flaws. As my last review here attests, I love reading YA. I can wrap my head around unusual slang and shifting perspectives as easily as I can drive to work each day. The story is so rich and gripping, though, that as I said earlier, I couldn’t put it down, even when I was horrified by what I read. Derivatives of harsh sexual slang and the complex depictions of human sexuality makes this not a book for all teens but a potentially important one for older teens and adults. I kept reading because I had to know more about Harmony and about the market for “surrogettes.”
As a religious young woman, I am intrigued but cautious about any literary portrayal of religious young women. Harmony and her community were my only disappointments in this novel. Harmony lives in a sequestered community called Goodside, separate from the rest of the world in “Otherside.” It seems to have a hybrid of Amish, fundamentalist, and Catholic characteristics; its residents primarily farm and observe sacraments carried out by an oligarchy. Harmony claims to have left Goodside to save Melody. Born together, they should have grown up together. Even after her secrets emerge and she entangles herself in Melody’s life, though, she remains caricatured. I hope McCafferty develops Harmony more in the forthcoming sequel, Thumped. She drops a few hints about guiding Harmony toward non-fundamentalist religion , and she may well follow through. I’m interested to see if religious people outside of Goodside retain their fertility into their twenties as do those inside, because fertility seems to be the driving force of this world.
It is in the depiction of the new fertility that McCafferty has her biggest successes, but there’s also an underlying moral failure. Because of the essential purposes of sex according to the Catholic Church (union and procreation, a.k.a. bonding and babies), surrogacy is unacceptable. It takes the loving act of conceiving children and makes it mechanical, divorcing it from parenting. In Bumped, the pregnant teen girls are not simply IVF surrogates. They are more like mothers in a directed closed adoption. The adoptive parents dictate almost every aspect of the pregnancy, but they are not biologically involved because, due to HPSV, they can’t be. Other than that, McCafferty manages to weave a world where the complications of such surrogacy have been systematically eliminated:
- Picked to bump with a boy you can’t stand? Take “Tocin” to get in a blissful, memory-erasing mood.
- Getting too attached to the baby as it grows? Take Anti-Tocin so that it’s just a “pregg,” and never use the “B-word” again.
- Want to see the 4-D ultrasound? Forget about it; you might not want to give up your pregg.
- Attracted to a guy you can’t bump with for fear of conceiving a baby no one wants to pay you for? Well, you’d have to give birth for the good of humanity (no un-preggy sex allowed!). If you can’t resist, make him your “everythingbut.”
- Can’t bump for real yet? Hop on down to Babiez R U and get a FunBump of your very own, now with realistic motion!
McCafferty’s writing was so creative that it kept me from bursting into tears at how far humanity had fallen.
Paying for babies–and the teen girls who must carry and give birth to them–is a twisted combination of prostitution and slavery. Yet even today, we keep abusing our fertility by paying doctors and contraceptive companies to help us have sex without babies for the first few decades of our reproductive lives, and then we pay the same doctors to help us get our fertility back as we age. For many people, sex and babies don’t always go together. Without our world like this, is the world of Bumped really so inconceivable?