Today’s post is a guest entry from a UF undergraduate student currently enrolled in Rebekah’s Fitzsimmons’s class called Teenage Wastelands: American Dystopian Young Adult Fiction.
By Kenna Galloway
The popularity of dystopian young adult literature is clear by spending only a few minutes in the teen section of the bookstore. Many of these novels show us the threat of a possible future based off exaggerated circumstances and issues that we face as a society today. A serious tone is common in this genre, something the author often breaks up through the use of a snarky secondary character, a subplot of romance, or both. Megan McCafferty’s Bumped, however, does not fit this stereotype. That is not to say that its underlying issues are not serious or that there is no romance, but you can tell from reading only the first few chapters this book is much different than Lauren Oliver’s Delirium or Veronica Roth’s Divergent. The tone of Bumped is most like M.T. Anderson’s Feed, in its use of satirical situations and language, although in this humble reviewer’s opinion, less intelligently and with much less challenge for the reader.
Bumped is full of vibrant characters. Perhaps, too vibrant. The novel is just over three hundred pages and with upwards of twelve quasi-main characters that you must keep track of, it is clear that McCafferty had to make a few sacrifices to erase some of the difficulty of keeping them all straight and separate. Often in real life people are not so starkly different against each other, but in only three hundred pages characters sometimes have to so that the reader can see them as different and the author can achieve progress in the story quickly. However, the sacrifices that McCafferty made in character development and depth seriously hurt the reader’s ability to relate to them.
Melody and Harmony are twins separated at birth and each raised by vastly different families (Melody’s- a young couple obsessed with raising the perfect daughter to make them money with the perfect pregg, Harmony’s- the environment of a religious town called Goodside, that promotes marriage and fosters feelings of community and the shame of sin). The chapters told from their alternating viewpoints make it very clear to the reader the differences between them. Because we are “in their heads,” the reader is able to identify more depth, complexity, and growth (even though it feels like it takes forever), and therefore they are the closest to fully developed that the reader meets. Other characters, such as Zen (Melody’s best friend), Jondoe (Handsome tempter who is a professional “bumper”), and Ram (Harmony’s fiancé from Goodside), have basically only one level for most of the novel and one “ah ha!” moment where their “true” self, or some secret about them, is revealed or self discovered. Having one “surprise” level to a character that is told outside of the author’s first paragraph description of them does not reach development, and because of this, McCafferty’s characters are at times hard to relate to feel empathy for.
Like mentioned earlier, Bumped handles serious issues in a deceptively light tone. We wade through a world full of pregnant children with main track storyline worries such as “Will Harmony steal Melody’s pregg?” or “Why did Harmony really leave Goodside?”. Unlike other dystopian novels, our main characters do not face, or fight, really, the issue of the dystopian society. Their society has of course contributed to the circumstances that they find themselves in, but their drama is a simply heightened case of high school–type drama. Melody is not secretly part of a resistance to pregging and Harmony comes to “save” Melody for ulterior motives. No one except Zen, who barely even says much outright until the very end, proclaims that their society has issues at its foundation, and that pregging so young is wrong, and so is the consumer-product culture that has evolved around it.
Bumped leaves much to be desired. Its plot is obvious; its twists and turns the stuff of soap operas. McCafferty fails to leave the reader anything to connect on his or her own. Even the idea that bumping goes against maternal instincts is laid out to use through the use of the character Malia (who truly should have been edited out of the novel). We never meet Malia, but her character functions to show us that pregging is not the same as having a baby, and that maternal behavior in the world of Bumped is not something that is welcome. It may have been more compelling if this situation had happened to one of the main characters, such as Melody’s pregnant best friend Shoko, or even Melody or Harmony. But instead we were given an unnecessary mystery as a fable of sorts, to identify how this society is wrong. McCafferty does not leave any puzzle pieces under the table for the reader to find for himself or herself, as it were. Instead she neatly lies out the pieces, in order, so that all the reader must do is click them into spot robotically and without much thought.
Overall, Bumped seemed unfinished. It seemed like a draft or sketch, something to be filled in and fleshed out at a later time. McCafferty’s dystopian world was fresh and compelling, but its characters fell flat and far from their potential.