Planned Pitch *
750,000 teens in the United States become pregnant every year. There’s nothing especially different about these four girls, except for the legal battle and media firestorm that follows after a school expulsion immediately prior to the girls’ graduation. Faced with a lack of support from their family, their friends, and the fathers of their children, these young women will have to help each other while withstanding national contempt for their crime of being Pregnant.
* Like many book pitches, this is deliberately simplified. There will be helpful family and friends as this is not the story of four super-humans rising above society with nothing more than bootstraps. Indeed, a strong subtext (of what I hope will be this ultimately hopeful series) will be that of Privilege and Marginalization intersectionality: these young women will have privileges even as they are marginalized, and I want to work through how those issues work for and against real people in real life. There are also fewer spoilers than you might think here as the book features girls from two different high schools. Misdirection!
** Note: I don't like "for their crime" in the statement above, because there's a chance someone could read that as a futuristic dysotipia, but I'm not sure what to replace it with.
750,000 teens in the United States of America become pregnant every year. The U.S.A. has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any developed country in the world.
In the 2007-2008 school year, high school officials in Gloucester, Massachusetts counted 18 pregnancies among high school aged girls. This rate of pregnancies in a single year was not higher than surrounding areas in Massachusetts, nor was it unusual in Gloucester on a historical timeline — twenty years before, there had been 14 pregnancies among the teenaged community body at the same school. However, the 18 pregnancies noted in the ‘07-’08 school year represented a rate that was four times higher than had been observed in the previous school year, and questions were raised regarding the reasons behind the rise in teen pregnancies.
The real reasons behind these teen pregnancies were complex and varied across each individual case. Most of the teenagers became pregnant based on a lack of information or a lack of resources: either they didn’t know how to properly use contraceptives, or they didn’t have access to birth control when they needed it. Many of them had been misinformed about how to avoid pregnancy, and about what methods could be followed to prevent it. Quite a few of them simply didn’t believe it could happen to them. Some of them used contraceptives only to have the contraceptives fail unexpectedly. And some of the teenagers may have been pressured or even forced into unprotected sex and then denied the necessary medical intervention to prevent the resulting pregnancy from progressing further. Only about one-third of the eighteen young women chose to terminate their pregnancy and had the resources available to do so; the rest of the teenagers delivered and for the most part choose to keep their children rather than offer them for adoption.
When the news media — first the local media, then the national media, and finally the global media — questioned school officials about these pregnancies and whether better education or access to birth control could have prevented them, the school principal argued that there was nothing the school could have done differently to prevent these pregnancies because they had been deliberately planned: eighteen girls, of varying ages and in different social groups and with different friends and few ties between them, had supposedly come together as a group to preemptively make a “pact” to become pregnant. The media was delighted with the idea and before long, news crews were camped out on the doorstep of every pregnant young woman that could be found in Gloucester.
Today, there are very few people who still believe in the “pact” theory. The young women themselves have denied forming a pact to deliberately become pregnant; most of them were trying to be sexually active without getting pregnant, but were given little information and even fewer resources. But what is fascinating, from a feminist point of view, is how quickly the “pact” story spread like wildfire across the world. 750,000 teenagers become pregnant in the United States every year and that isn’t considered newsworthy, nor is the fact that the U.S.A. teen pregnancy rate is one of the highest rates in the world, but when eighteen girls in Massachusetts might have become pregnant not by chance or as a punishment for their sexuality, but by choice — with forethought and agency and without shame — then this was something that people could not wait to express outrage over. News pundits were scandalized, talk shows argued passionately, Lifetime movies were made, police dramas frothed. The fact that most everyone involved on the commentary side was working with little-to-no real information seemed a feature, not a bug.
When the news broke in 2008, I and others on a feminist discussion board watched with fascination. We seriously doubted that there had ever been a pact between these teenagers to deliberately get pregnant, but openly wondered if all this “pact” business wasn’t something that came after the fact, as an evolving support network between girls who knew that they were going to need help from sister-souls in the coming months and years. And, indeed, this may have been the case: in the documentary “The Gloucester 18”, school nurse Kim Daly states:
When these girls became pregnant they found each other and they did develop a support system. They weren't necessarily friends beforehand but they became friends. And I think that makes sense. Kids with common interests are going to find one another. — Kim Daly
One of the eighteen Gloucester teens, Alyssa Silva, confirmed Daly’s account:
The only pact that I heard about was the girls that were already pregnant, they were going to stick together and help each other. And make sure they got through school, watched each other's kids, do homework together. — Alyssa Silva
The concept of women — especially young women — helping other women in a society that is deeply hostile to them is a concept which is inherently feminist and strongly subversive. I knew, from the moment I first heard about the so-called pregnancy “pact”, that I wanted to write a fictional story about young teenage women getting into pregnancy situations that they hadn’t planned and didn’t want, situations in which society would be eager to judge but loathe to help, and these women deciding to help each other out when no one else could be counted on to understand their situation or o aid them in their time of need. I wanted to write a story of four young women being caught up in a media firestorm that they didn’t want, based on a misunderstanding that no one would allow them to clarify, and steeped in our social obsession with teenage bodies and female sexuality.
The “Pact” series I am currently writing is that story.
Miscellaneous Themes and Thoughts
- When I realized I had enough material for a four-part series instead of a single book, I decided to call the series "Pact". The books are tentatively titled "Pregnant", "Agent", "Clamant", and "Trenchant". Each of these words holds a key to the theme of the book, and of course they spell P.A.C.T. (Yes, yes, very clever. But I like acronyms.)
- I wanted to write a novel that included a wanted abortion where things actually got better as a result, as frequently happens in real life. I also wanted to write a novel where abortions can be difficult to procure (because of conservative obstacles placed in the way) and where the hurdles of teen pregnancy termination are realistically depicted. This series will handle both.
- I wanted to write a novel with a multi-cultural, multi-religious, and multi-sexual cast working together toward a common goal. This series will feature a white Protestant, a Jewish atheist, a Chinese-American Wiccan, and an agnostic African-American. I'm probably going to need a lot of help on the character studies. (As if writing a book about pregnancy wasn't ambitious enough for me.)
- This series, being such a large project, will probably be written in conjunction with multiple other projects in order to maintain momentum. Which will make statements like "my next book will feature ...." necessarily confusing.
Open thread below. Thoughts welcome on everything above, or I encourage you to post what your Work In Progress is. Barring that, I provide this challenge -- create a book pitch based on the following random elements (Freytag Pyramiding optional):
- One Way Street
- Gasoline Station
- State Fair (candy store + circus tent + ferris wheel)