YA Guy had great expectations for Megan McCafferty’s Bumped.
It came highly recommended, as a sort of YA partner to The Handmaid’s Tale. Its premise--a future world in which a virus has caused adult sterility in the industrialized West, necessitating teen pregnancy to sustain the population--sounded intriguing. And its first few pages crackled with wordplay, energy, and vicious wit.
Yet I’m forced to admit that, in the end, my reaction to the book was decidedly mixed.
There was much I loved. The narrators--twin sisters separated at birth, one raised to be a paid breeder, the other reared in a strict religious community--were engaging, and their voices easily distinguishable. The wordplay could be incredibly clever: girls who produce babies for infertile couples are known as “Surrogettes” (a devastating play on “suffragettes”), the talent agency that recruits such girls is titled “UGenXX,” the stud-for-hire who couples with one of the twins goes by the stage name “Jondoe.” On almost every page, there’s a neologism to attest to the warped reality of McCafferty’s fictional world.
But that ended up being one of my principal reservations about the book as a whole. After a hundred pages or so, the verbal pyrotechnics became so aggressive and omnipresent, they opened up a rift between word and world. Jondoe performs “pro boner” work for those unable to afford his services. A girl posing as a Surrogette is a “doppelbanger.” Teens look stuff up on the “quikiwiki,” and carp about peers who are “starcissistic.” I began to wonder if any society could be so steeped in puns and sexual innuendo, and as I began to wonder that, a key element of any successful dystopia--its relationship to our own world--began to dissipate. I wasn’t sure if I was reading satire or slapstick, and for me, that was a real problem.
The issues this book addresses--everything from the sexualization of young girls to human trafficking to religious fundamentalism--are deadly serious. Satire (in the manner of Swift’s “Modest Proposal”) subjects serious issues to mocking humor in the interest of provoking dialogue, discussion, and debate. Slapstick does no such thing: it reduces all subjects to the same level of absurdity for no better reason than to provoke a laugh. I don’t believe that’s what McCafferty was trying to do. But the more I read, the more the book seemed like a screwball comedy rather than a “frighteningly believable” take on our own sick society (as one of the book-jacket reviewers put it).
I have a teenage daughter. I hate that she’s growing up in a society where, as McCafferty aptly writes, girls “are valued far more for what’s between their legs than what’s between their ears.” I’m glad books like Bumped offer girls like my daughter (and boys like her younger brother) a chance to see the real world through the distorting lens of fiction.
But to me at least, the distortion in Bumped became so extreme I could no longer tell what I was looking at. I'd be interested to hear if other readers--particularly female readers--had a similar reaction, or if perhaps my inability to get into this particular book was a "guy thing."