Megan McCafferty is one of my favorite authors. I had the opportunity to read her upcoming dystopian YA, Bumped, back in November, and am finally able to share my review with you, along with a wonderful interview with Megan herself! Exclamation points may be used overexcessively to illustrate my excitement at this!!!
Okay. Let's get straight to it.
Melody and Harmony are identical blond-haired, blue-eyed twins who never knew the other existed until recently. Melody was brought up to be a competitive candidate on the market for professionally impregnated teens. In their world where only teenagers can get pregnant, the Jaydens pay big money for her to be “bumped” by a worthy male specimen to produce their ideal baby.
Meanwhile, Harmony grew up in a highly religious community to be the perfect wife. When she leaves her community to search down Melody and save her sister from her sinful lifestyle, it leads to a huge case of mistaken identity that has both sisters questioning everything they had once believed in about their purpose in life.
Megan McCafferty is the author of the Jessica Darling books, hands-down my all-time favorite contemporary series. The dystopian novel BUMPED is a huge departure from her legacy, but you tone down your instinctual desire to compare it to the Jessica Darling books, it is a fantastically complex story that will provide fodder for thought for multiple rereads.
BUMPED is an example of a dystopian society that is so fully realized and self-sustaining that it becomes very difficult for us outsiders to access. I spent a significant portion of the first half of BUMPED trying to figure out the “rules” of Harmony and Melody’s world, chock-full of futuristic terms, attitudes, and daily routines that seem extremely alien to us.
This may make BUMPED feel like a tryingly slow-moving novel, but once you get into their society’s groove, you quickly realize just how much Megan McCafferty has accomplished. If our currently label-preoccupied, materialistic, and consumeristic society were indeed to suffer from a mysterious virus that makes all adults infertile, you can bet that the resulting society would be almost exactly the one McCafferty has created here. All of the new vocabulary that Harmony and Melody use effortlessly can be traced back to our current world, so that once you’re successfully immersed in the story, you really get it.
At first both sisters came off as a bit flat and indistinguishable for me, but as the story went on they blossomed into uniquely complex individuals that I found myself really rooting for. Melody seems like she’s got everything figured out and going for her, albeit in a rather boring way. The deterioration of her perfect life forces her to finally confront herself with what she really wants, rather than what she was brought up to want. Harmony starts off as an irritatingly preachy girl, but as she becomes further entangled in Melody’s world, and deals with emotional turmoil of her own, I found myself liking her more and more for her determination to do right and stay true to herself in a manipulative world that she does not quite understand.
Supporting characters like Melody’s pregnancy club friends, Melody’s charming best friend Zen, and Jondoe, the star stud whose sperm is in high demand, all have a delightful roundedness to them—roundedness that does not mean they are perfectly bland characters, but instead have the ability to fight for what they want, even if we may not necessarily agree with what they want.
BUMPED is a layered book that will be good for multiple rereads, as each successive reread reveals a new layer of characterization, wordplay, and world-building that you may have noticed in passing in the first read-through but become really impressed by only in subsequent rereads. This, I think, is Megan McCafferty’s ultimate gift as an author: she has a fierce talent for and dedication to writing books that can be enjoyed at multiple levels, good for a permanent fixture on your reread shelf. Avid lovers of her Jessica Darling books, such as myself, will, I think, appreciate that the most about her first foray outside of Jessica’s well-known world, and as a result I’m really looking forward to the sequel and whatever Megan has to share with us next.
Cover discussion: I like my fair share of simple covers, but I'm not sure how I feel about this one. It may be a bit TOO simplistic and "fuzzy" in its intention...?
Balzer + Bray / April 26, 2011 / Hardcover / 336pp. / $16.99
Sent by the author for review. Thank you, Megan!
Interview with Megan McCafferty
I have answered this question a lot, but I think that says so much about the subject matter. When people hear “only teenagers can have babies and adults pay them to make deliveries” they’re like, “What the WHAT?!” But is it really all that far-fetched? It seems like nearly every day I read an article (with headlines like “Pregnancy Epidemic: 90 teens, 11 Percent of Student Body, Pregnant” or “Teen Auctions Off Her Virginity for 50K,” or “Meet the Twiblings: The Futuristic Insta-Family”) supporting my idea that under certain terrible conditions, the shocking teen pregnancy policies of Bumped could and would be put in practice. Cultural norms are fluid, not fixed.
2. Many people know you as the author of the Jessica Darling series. Did anything about your writing process change between writing the Jessica Darling books and Bumped?
Everything changed. I grew up in Jessica Darling’s world. I knew it inside and out. I’d never invented a whole world before, so it took me a while to find my footing in the futuristic setting and understand all the characters that inhabit it.
3. Bumped is such a thoroughly realized dystopian world, with its own vocabulary, values, systems, etc. How did you keep track of all the details about this world you created?
Thank you! My husband reads a lot of Sci-Fi. He advised me early on that I shouldn’t even try to accurately predict the future, I should just have a good time with it. So that’s what I did. I had fun with the wordplay and worldplay. Once I was immersed in the story, the new world of Bumped became as familiar to me as the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, NJ.
4. Which character or concept in Bumped surprised you the most his/her/its development?
When I started writing the book, I had no idea that Jondoe had as many secrets as Harmony. He’s as much of a product of his parents’ oppressive expectations as the twins are.
5. Jondoe was a pleasant surprise for me, too. :) Now, what is your favorite season, and why?
Summer. I write drafts in fall and winter, revise in spring. Summer means I can relax and recharge by doing research for whatever book comes next.
There’s a character, Ram, who is just the tiniest bit inspired by Bristol Palin’s babydaddy, Levi Johnston. For a few days I devoted myself to watching his interviews on YouTube so I could borrow his body language and speech patterns. I now know more about Levi Johnston than anyone could possibly need to know.
7. I'll bet that's true! Say you have the power to bring one deceased author back to life. Who would you pick, and why?
I’d bring back J.D. Salinger because it would be amusing to watch him react to his own resurrection. “Goddamn phonies. I’m dead. Leave me alone.”
8. Name one extreme sport you would love to try, and one you will never, ever do. (Yes, you can make an extreme sport up: after all, extreme ironing is an acknowledged activity.)
I had emergency back surgery when I was 25, so you’ll never see me bungee jumping, sky-diving, or otherwise recklessly hurling my body around. Extreme Karaoke is more my style.
9. I like the sound of that! Finally, what dystopian novels would you recommend to readers?
There aren’t too many satirical dystopian YA novels, but Feed by M.T. Anderson is the one I thought about most when I was writing Bumped. It’s brilliant, hilarious and so close becoming a terrifying reality.
Thank you, Megan, for answering my questions! I am going to her launch party for Bumped next Tuesday, April 26 in Princeton, NJ, so as a gift to you readers, I am going to give away a signed copy of Bumped for one winner! And, heck, let's make it international, because I can't spread the love enough for this amazing author's books. To enter, please fill out this form here, making sure to answer the question relevantly. This giveaway ends Friday, May 13, 2011. Good luck!