Note: This review was originally posted on my blog "Shelf of Friends" on February 14, 2012.
Author: Meg McCafferty
Age Range: YA
Publication Date: 4/26/2011
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
What's it about?
In the future, a virus will sweep through mankind that will make nearly everyone infertile. Nearly everyone, except teenagers. In this future where procreation depends on the young, birth control has been allowed and being pregnant has become the latest fashion piece. No ensemble is complete unless a girl has a nice round bump of a baby growing inside.
Melody is a teenage girl who has contracted out her womb to a rich couple who want a child. Melody is pretty much a perfect choice being intelligent, beautiful, and athletic. But because she's on contract, she can only reproduce with a male selected by the rich couple. So while Melody waits for a guy to be picked, her friends are all on their second or third pregnancies. Being a virgin without any pregnancies to her name, Melody finds her popularity quickly slipping.
And it doesn't help when her twin, Harmony, suddenly shows up at her house. Harmony has grown up in a deeply religious society, one that is a cross between Amish and extremely conservative Christianity. Harmony has come to save Melody's soul, to bring her to God and to keep her from selling her body and her womb. But having grown up extremely sheltered, it is no surprise that Harmony is shell shocked by the world.
The two identical twin sisters have starkly different beliefs, but through a case of mistaken identity, the two come to question everything they've been taught and they begin to take their futures into their own hands.
It's YA. Tell me about the boys!
We have two girls, so of course there is more than one boy! Zen is Melody's best friend, but that's all he can ever be. Even if Melody didn't have to abstain in favor of some boy her rich benefactors are going to pick, Zen is not the sort of boy any girl would date. Despite his good looks and intelligence, he is much too short, making his genes not favorable.
Jondoe on the other hand is the most desired male stud (for lack of a better word). He's everything a couple could want in their kid's genes: beautiful, intelligent, and athletic. On the surface he seems like any other superstar: arrogant and extremely confident. But beneath the surface superstar Jondoe is a boy named Gabriel, whose personnel beliefs might seem odd for such a premier stud.
Ram is a shy quiet boy from the same sheltered community as Harmony, who follows Harmony from their community out into the world. He just wants to take her back and live a normal life, even though he has his own secret that means he can never truly fit in their religious community.
These three boys are vastly different. All three have varying beliefs and feelings about how the world has turned out and their role in it, helping to flesh out this controversial world.
Wait....what? Is this book glorifying teenage pregnancy?
No. In fact, I believe that's the point the author is trying to make with this book, that often in today's world teenage pregnancy has been glorified, whether it's Juno or Teen Moms. In the world presented, teenage pregnancy has been glorified: both in the secular world and the religious community. In Melody's world, being pregnant is the cool and fashionable thing to do; it's also a smart financial decision, and her parents are relying on the money her womb will bring. In Harmony's world, it's her religious duty, a role that she must fulfill in order to be viewed as an adult and a real woman. As we follow both girls through the story, we discover the danger of both views and of when this pressure is being put on such young girls. There is a world of adults who want children, and they're exploiting teenagers and even preteens--making them sacrifice their lives and their bodies to the cause of procreation.
I assure you it does not glorify pregnancy, if anything it argues for why teenagers should not get pregnant, and the dangers of a world where such extreme pressure is put on teenagers.
Does this book portray Christianity negatively and poorly?
This was a real worry for me in this book, being a Christian myself. I completely agree that in a scenario like this, societies like the one Harmony's from. I don't agree with her society, finding it highly judgmental and too much emphasis on becoming what they want you to be, but I think it would exist. Groups like that exist now.
The book also presents a different view of Christianity which probably aligns more with what I believe, except what they believe about allowing their kids to have sex for procreation and for money outside of marriage. Now I can generally get behind what these people said about children being the greatest gift of all and such, and how their kids are filling a need and showing love by having babies--but it left me wondering what happened to artificial insemination in this world. I could totally see what these parents were thinking and then letting their son's donate sperm and their daughters get artificially inseminated. I guess sex is cheaper and easier than artificial insemination, but still. I just don't see any Christians being cool with their kids sleeping around for money to produce kids for other people.
So basically this book presented two views of Christianity that I don't really agree with. But if you're a Christian it definitely makes you think--how would Christians react to this situation? What would be our response? And what is the right course of action when only teenagers can get pregnant?
If this was a movie, what would its rating be?
I can't recall any bad language, and there is pretty much no violence. But this book is pretty much all about sex and pregnancy, so yeah. I would definitely not have been comfortable reading this as a middle schooler or early high schooler, and probably wouldn't let my kids that age read it either. But for older teens, it can lead to really good discussion and thoughts about what would happen in this scenario and about the pressures around teens regarding sex. None of the descriptions of sex are graphic, it's very PG-13 fade to black, but there is some honest talk about pregnancy that can be disturbing for those of us who are squeamish, though there is no birth seen on screen in the book, so not graphic in those terms. But pregnancy is a way of life for the teens girls in this book, and it doesn't always end well for all of them.
Overall, how was it?
This book presents a very interesting world that can lead to a lot of interesting discussion. If you're looking for a dystopian about a pair of girls overthrowing an evil regime, this isn't that book. If you're looking for a world not that different from our own where one virus changes everything, this could be that book. It definitely leaves you waiting for the sequel, wondering what's going to happen next--how these girls are going to go on with their lives after the events of this book.