Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Realistic, Honest, and Well Written

After reading Bumped, a dystopia about teenage pregnancy for profit, I had to prove to myself that my issues with Bumped weren't about the idea of teenage pregnancy. Instead, my issues were the silly way it was handled. So I picked up Hooked by Catherine Greenman with one purpose in mind- prove to myself I was open to all kinds of Young Adult novels- even ones about tough subjects. I have one ting to say- This book proved it.

Thea is the product of a now-sober alcoholic father and a flighty mother who is more concerned with her own life than that of her daughter she is supposed to be raising. Despite a somewhat absentee father (even when he was physically present) and mother, Thea turned out ok. She was doing decently in her competitive high school, was your average, well-rounded young woman, and had some good friends. When she met Will, it was your typical first love. She felt hooked by her love for him; she needed him to love her as much as she loved him.

When Will graduated, he decided to stay in the city and go to Columbia University. At some point in the beginning of the year, Thea becomes pregnant. At first, she is stunned, but she tells her mother and decides to have an abortion. While her best friend and her mom offer to go with her, Thea decides to do it on her own. When she sees the sonogram, though, she can't imagine getting rid of the little person inside her. She panics and leaves the clinic, but doesn't tell anyone about her situation. When it becomes too late for an abortion, she finally admits to Will, her mom, and finally tells her father the truth: she is still pregnant and plans to have the baby.

At first everyone is angry with Thea for a host of reasons, but most importantly for keeping this from them. But then they soften and realize she was determined to have the baby. Both sets of parents decide to help Thea and Will out, set them up with a cheap apartment, and are moderately involved in financial support. Will is still going to Columbia, so Thea stays home and takes care of the baby, Ian. At first, the arrangement seems cozy, but quickly the immaturity of both parents comes out. Thea accidentally burns Ian with water and rushes him to the hospital. When Will arrives, he makes it very clear he blames Thea (despite it being an accident). This tension continues until he pushes her to put Ian up for adoption. Terrified Will is going to take Ian and give him away, Thea moves in with her father and asks Will to leave them alone.

Life with her father, a man she barely knew growing up, is odd at first, but their shared love for Ian brings them together. They make a cozy little life together, but sometimes their ideas for Thea's future are very different. This causes tension between two parents in very different points in their lives, both trying to raise their children. While Thea must find out who she is and who she wants to become, one thing is always obvious. Thea loves Ian and wants nothing more than to be his mother.

This is an amazing story because the characters are flawed, caring, mean well, and are so darned realistic. Thea is a kid, but she is a kid who is determined to be the best mother she can. I have a cousin who had a baby when he was still a teenager, and it still amazes me to see him with his son- he is such an amazing father and he desperately loves his son. This is Thea. She is young. She makes mistakes (which is something we adults to all the time too!). She loves her child unconditionally. I love the way her parenting is told through the voice of an 18 year old woman, too. Instead of "nursing" her son, she "gives him the boob"! And when Will tries to give Ian to an adoption agency, she is too scared to seek help from the adults in her life but also too immature to know he didn't have the right to do so. This was a book that showed the real life of a teen mom- bumps, bruises, tears, joy, love, affection, and all. Nothing is spared here, from the time his belly button nub falls off, to the terror when she accidentally scalded him with hot water. This book is frank and honest. Sure the message is that being a young mother is hard work, means losing the "childhood" your friends get to have, and will change you for better or for worse... but the book also says, "Hang in there. It can be done. People will help you." I loved this message. Oddly, it makes me think of all the things we say to kids to scare them throughout their childhoods. "Don't make that face or it will stick that way." "Don't swallow the watermelon seeds or a plant will grow in your belly." We say so much to scare them, but we forget to just tell them the truth. Well, this book does just that. Truth, for better or worse, is what you will get with Hooked.

There is some sexual content in this book that might make it better for a high school reader. The moral is handled seriously, but with enough levity and individualism to make it not sound like a "moral" book. I suspect the cover might frighten away a number of parents and teachers, but I hope you give it a chance. This book doesn't glamorize teen moms, but it doesn't make them seem like a stereotype either. This is a wonderful book for any teenager to read in order to let them get all the information, good and bad, and let them make decisions and choices for themselves. Sometimes, like with Thea, the answer isn't what you first thought was the right answer, but it still might be the best one in the long run.

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