Monday, May 27, 2013

The TorchBearers' Book Club: "Bumped" chapters 5-6

Last time on the TorchBearers’ Book club, we looked at the opening chapters of Bumped, our two protagonists and the importance of a good opening. I didn’t really set the scene, as it wasn’t relevant to the deconstruction, but since we’re moving away from the tell-don’t-show and into the more reactive part of the plot (sort of), it’s time to do so now. Melody and Harmony have just met for the first time and gone to a mall, presumably to buy Harmony a veil. However, they take a detour in Babiez R U, a sort of toy/accessory shop that sells fake pregnancy bellies (Fun Bumps) (You know, the stuff evil villainesses wear in soap operas instead of a pillow, to convince the hero they’re pregnant with their baby, only more sophisticated.) Harmony is in the middle of trying to spread the word to Melody when they’re interrupted by a salesclerk.
 
(Note: Spoilers under the cut!)

Trynn looks to Harmony. “Are you interested in trying something on?”

Harmony primly pats her shoulder-length veil. “It’s against my religion.”

“Really? I wouldn’t have guessed,” Trynn says, stifling a snicker.

McCafferty, Megan (2011-04-26). Bumped (p. 21). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Then we get a quick infodump about the dress codes in Harmony’s settlement - all white until marriage, with an added veil upon becoming engaged, green until first birth, blue or pink afterwards depending on the sex of the first child. It seems like an unnecessary bit of info, but wait! Trynn (the salesclerk) isn’t too happy about a preachy Churchie in her shop, and decides to take a dig.

“That engagement gown is so pure,” she says gently. “But aren’t you, like, too mature to wear white? Shouldn’t you be in the pink or blue by now?”

McCafferty, Megan (2011-04-26). Bumped (pp. 22-23). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Ouch, a bitter older woman indirectly insulting a younger, more “fruitful” one. A shocker straight out of “Mean Girls”, and not a trope I’m too excited about. It’s one of those things that may look good on paper, contrasting your heroine to a less nice specimen, but is unnecessarily cruel if you try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. See Ana Mardoll’s “Painted Waitress” post for more on that.

Unlike Twilight, however, there is no man in this scene for Trynn to fling herself at and be immediately turned down for being Not As Good As The Heroine, which begs the question: Why is Trynn being catty? Surely, she’s more likely to make a sale if she’s nice to her customers. Melody wonders if she’s a bitter obsolescent - someone who “squandered” their “reproductivity” - but then quickly changes her mind when the above remark is made. So… she was just being mean then? Not projecting her own bitterness on a younger, more promising girl? Not annoyed that she might lose her commission?

No? Just being mean?

Okay then.

Interesting dig, though. Out of all the things Trynn could have mocked Harmony for, she picked up the fact that the girl was a virgin even when it’s normal - nay, encouraged - for girls in her community to pop babies as soon as their first period started. Another interesting thing - Harmony has never spoken of her fiance to her sister, even though the two of them had been communicating for a while now. Dun-dun-duuuuuuun!

Melody gets angry on Harmony’s behalf - something that surprises both her and the readers. Up to this point, Melody has only shown the barest of interests towards her sister’s life, and hasn’t been going out of her way to make her feel welcome. In fact, she’s been openly, almost aggressively dismissive of Harmony’s discourse, choosing to treat her as a brainwashed Churchie rather than an intelligent human being. And shouldn’t she be siding with Trynn? In this world of diminished reproductivity, shouldn’t the number one priority be having children while you still can?

The answer, apparently, is more complicated than that.

But the more Harmony talks, the more it becomes clear that the Church isn’t giving much of a choice in the matter of marriage and motherhood.

(…)

Don’t fit me for a veil or anything because I can be sympathetic to Harmony and still have issues with her way of life.

McCafferty, Megan (2011-04-26). Bumped (p. 23-24). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

And this is where we get to the meat of the story.

This is a world where everyone over 18 is infertile. We don’t get much info as to how the virus works, only that it puts a tremendous pressure on people to reproduce. Teenage girls are supposed to be the most important people on the planet, as per the opening statement, and yet we have to ask ourselves: Do they even WANT this for themselves?

We’ve all been through adolescence and I’m willing to bet that most of us have had a period where we believed ourselves to be the centre of the universe - we knew all, we were savvy and sophisticated and worldly, or we knew nothing and were awkward and gawky, or any combo in-between, and we felt almost neglected when the world failed to take notice of everything we did. In some ways, the world ignoring us was part of the package.

But imagine for a second that you really were placed in a position where you are the most important person in a given situation, and, what’s more, you’re expected to make a weighty decision. Would you really want to be in that hot spot? Would you relish making a decision that would impact your life and the lives of others?

When I was 13, I was made to believe that my choice of high school would determine my future career. It was gruelling, stressful, and a complete waste because my family ended up making the decision for me, because I was in no way capable of doing it myself. Can you imagine how much more pressure there would be if the decision involved getting pregnant?

For all the song and dance we make about being mature as teens, there are very few who can actually back it up. That’s why we don’t get to vote/drive cars/get married/buy alcohol legally until we reach a certain age. Apply the same logic to McCafferty’s world, and ask yourselves if Melody and Harmony (and every other teenage girl we meet) really have a choice.

Melody is sorry for Harmony - the girl lives in a community which forces her into a role without regard as to her suitability or maturity - but we’ll quickly discover that Melody’s own community isn’t any better.

Trynn turns to me. “I assume you’re here for nostalgia’s sake,” she says, still hoping to make the sale. “Let me guess. You’re in between bumps and want to relive the best nine months of your life?”

I reluctantly flash back to Malia.

“The worst nine months of my life!” she howled. “For what?”

McCafferty, Megan (2011-04-26). Bumped (pp. 24-25). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Not all girls want to be mothers. These aren’t one-off caricatures or worst-case-scenarios or horror stories, they are everywhere, and they are Melody’s friends.

A tweenage trio comes swaggering into the dressing room. The tweens accessorize their sparkly Ts with matching First Curse Purses, the menarche must-have for stashing the pads and tampons they’ll need any minute now. The target demo for Babiez R U, they steal Trynn’s attention.

McCafferty, Megan (2011-04-26). Bumped (p. 25). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

In Melody’s world, pregnancy bellies are sold like toys, feminine hygiene products are flaunted like accessories instead of being tucked into your purse, and periods are celebrated instead of being subject to ridicule. Language itself is full of references to pregnancies: “breedy” for “awesome”, “barren” for “shitty”, “ectopic” for “fantastic”, etc. Sex is everywhere, even into T-shirts for pre-pubescent girls: “DO THE DEED, BORN TO BREED”. Girls who have nine babies and more are considered something of Reality stars. And yet, the subject of all of this, the babies, are cleverly taken out of the conversation. It’s not a pregnancy, it’s pregging. It’s not having a baby, it’s bumping. The word “baby” itself is considered gauche, and carefully avoided in conversation.

Melody’s environment is just as pressuring as Harmony’s, but while Melody has a reason not to have borne a child yet (her contracted couple is still looking for a sperm donor), Harmony doesn’t seem to have an excuse. And even if Melody is dismissive/sorry of her sister, I can’t help but think that she also admires her quite a bit - that she has remained “pre-bumped” in spite of peer pressure, apparently by her own choice.

Then Melody checks her MiNet and finds a positive log. She and Harmony exit the store, only to be accosted by Zen.

Zen is Melody’s best friend, but we quickly discover that things are more complicated than that. The two share an easy banter and lots of inner jokes, but there is also tension to their interactions (apparently, Zen didn’t speak to Melody for over a month), as well as a lot of the other kind of tension (unacted upon, as Zen is too short to do the job.)

Anyway, there is some talk about the orgy last night (Zen was the designated driver), some barely hidden jealousy on Melody’s part, and then Harmony asserting herself in one of my most favourite moments in the book:

“Well,” I say, smoothing over the wrinkles in my dress, “I’m proud to serve as a powerful example of faith and female purity.” I wince, worried about sounding vain. “And, yes, I’m allowed to take off my veil whenever I want.”

“Why don’t you take it off right now?” Zen asks.

“Because I don’t want to.”

McCafferty, Megan (2011-04-26). Bumped (p. 33). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

“Hey, woman, why don’t you do this thing that I find commonsense?”

“Because I don’t want to.”

AND ZEN LETS IT GO!

Seriously, how many times have you read this scenario in a book (or hell, lived it in real life), and the person standing on the other side demands a 30-page report, graphics excluded, a doctor’s note, three international treaties and a “Permission Denied” slip from the husband/father to back up the claim, before they are satisfied with a simple “no”.
 
Behold, authors, an example of feminsit man. Do not lock him up in a zoo, but reproduce him liberally throughout your texts. Allow your love interests to respect all women's judgements and the blogging gods will shower you with praise.

Also, I really like that, submissive as Harmony is, she is not deprived of free will. I think that makes her a deliciously subversive character, and admittedly, the sister with the more unconventional story arc.

But before she can give me more reasons to gush about, Melody asks Zen why he (by his own admission) stalked her out. He then, with great aplomb, produces a sheet of paper that sends Melody in a panic.

Dun-dun-duuuuuuuuuuuuun!



Note: Image via Goodreads.