by Megan McCafferty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Bumped / 978-0-061-96274-5
In a futuristic dystopia that seems strangely similar to our own modern-day culture, an under-class of underprivileged women are compelled by society to be the breeders for an upper-class that has been ravaged with infertility. In this culture, sex is not about love, but rather about pregnancy, and fertile women are expected to put their own feelings aside for the 'good of humanity' and the survival of the human race.
If it sounds like I'm describing Margaret Atwood's classic "The Handmaid's Tale", there's a reason for that - McCafferty's YA novel "Bumped" is in many ways an updated, modern version of this classic story. But "Bumped" isn't a slapdash retread of old material; the story here is incredibly well-told and fantastically compelling - I just wish there had been *more* of this slender novel.
A good dystopia is all about world-building, and "Bumped" has done an incredible job with that. When a virulent virus renders everyone over the age of twenty infertile, society starts casting a long eye at its youngest, most fertile members. Obviously, if the human race is to survive - at least until a cure is found - teenagers have to breed. Ideological splits occur, with the most "conservative" members of society disappearing into religious compounds to marry off their girls immediately after menarche; the "liberal" members of society take the opposite extreme, with 'helicopter parents' grooming their girls to sell their embryos to the highest bidder and taking out loans against "egg equity". A complete economy builds up around the process of commercial breeding, and drugs, accessories, and pop music chants are designed to "encourage" the young girls and boys to "do the deed" with as little fuss as possible.
McCafferty has done a superb job characterizing her two twins - Melody and Harmony - as identical victims of these two oppressively strict societies. Harmony struggles with religious doubts, and isn't comfortable with an arranged marriage to one of her religious 'brothers'; Melody has been groomed by her parents from day one to be a successful breeder, and struggles with her feelings of being used by those she loves and trusts. Both the twins are deeply likable and feel terribly realistic - especially young Harmony, whose own religious doubts and upbringing I immediately identified with.
I'm very impressed with the way "Bumped" outlines the ease with which an under-class of young and powerless teenagers can be exploited by society without even realizing that they are being exploited. Everything from marketing to the education system has been co-opted by parents who hope to profit off of their sons and daughters, as well as by a desperate government willing to trample on the rights of its most vulnerable citizens - to the point of turning a blind eye to illegal drug use if it helps the participants get through the crucial deed. Although it would have been easy to do so, "Bumped" never gives into the temptation of making this about teenage sex - the problem at the heart of this society isn't sex, but rather the commodification of teenagers' bodies in order for the upper members of society to profit.
I'd like to end on a couple of quick thoughts. First, like "The Handmaid's Tale", "Bumped" ends on an incredibly abrupt note with a great deal unfinished, so if that's the sort of thing that will ruin a story for you, be aware of that. Secondly, as someone struggling with fertility issues myself, I want to say that "Bumped" is wonderfully sensitive to infertile couples and doesn't vilify them - most of this book's ire is saved for a society that will willingly build an economy around exploiting infertility, and the parents who would encourage their children to take part in such a detrimental system.
I deeply enjoyed this novel and I highly recommend it as a wonderfully-written and incredibly thoughtful social dystopia.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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