Monday, June 3, 2013

The TorchBearer's book club: Bumped chapter 7

Welcome back, gentle readers, to the TorchBearers’ book club!

As some of you have noticed, we’ve been having some domain issues these last few weeks. Long story (And really, Ceilidh is the one who should be telling you this), but here’s the cliff notes: our domain name expired and was snatched up quickly, so now we’re British. We have feels about it, but all I will say is “Cheers, mates” and kick nationalism in the rear (It’s a globalised age, affinity to a set of borders should be the the first thing to go.) We apologise for our domain issues, and we’ve prepared a lovely new post to get the discussion going again.

Last time on Bumped, Zen showed Melody a piece of paper which sent her into a panic.

FOUR YEARS AGO TODAY, MANDATORY BLOOD TESTS confirmed that 75 percent of sixth through eighth graders at Princeton Day Academy Junior School had been infected with the Virus. Most parents hoped it was the unfunniest prank ever. Mine anticipated the spread of the Virus all along and had planned accordingly. Even though I’d heard Ash and Ty talk about Human Progressive Sterility Virus millions of times before, I never really understood what the words meant.

McCafferty, Megan (2011-04-26). Bumped (p. 36). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

So, remember my first post, when I said that Bumped follows, but also subverts our expectations of YA dystopia? Well, the time has come for me to expand on that.

The above paragraph is the only time there is a focus on the Virus, and as you can see, it’s still not very strong. There are a few other mentions peppered throughout, like Zen saying that perhaps the veils and the gloves are the reason why women in Harmony’s community are able to conceive in their twenties and thirties, and a throwaway line here and there about in-vitro not being viable for… reasons.

Quick confession: I don’t like everything about Bumped. I wish I did, and that way I could moan and groan about it being neglected and side-lined, but the truth is that it does have its problems. They’re just not the ones we’re used to seeing.

Also, I’d like to thank Whitley from Reading with a Vengeance for pointing out that, as it is, the Virus doesn’t make much sense. But I guess that’s only to be expected - after all, it’s JUST YA dystopian, so why should we expect a world-building that is rooted in reality?

As a genre, it is known to be light on the world-building and heavy on the romance. No wrong there - I guess, when you strip 1984 to its bare bones, you’d get the same thing (seriously, how did the world get pared down to three giant nations? How?) The premise for the dystopia is either omitted or barely mentioned - a plague, a war - and usually serves to set the world and give us a gimmick. Bumped is no exception - McCafferty wanted to write a world where teen pregnancy would be encouraged, and she had to come up with a premise to make that world happen, but - and here is where the book differs - rather than focusing on the cause of the dystopia, she focused her world-building on the consequences of it. How would a virus change the way we act, instead of how it came about.

All in all, this makes sense - in the grand scheme of things, it’s better to try and make the future better, rather than get stuck on the past and wonder where things went wrong. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive, but then nobody in Bumped is a fledging historian.

However, the assumption that veils and gloves can boost fertility is pretty flawed, even in the universe of the book. Because even if the women in Harmony’s community are extra fertilicious, the men are not (unless men wear veils too). Does that mean it’s acceptable for an older woman to sleep with a younger man, even if there is no concrete way of knowing if she can conceive or not (blood tests are not done in Goodside). And anyway, veils are only for engaged girls, right? That would mean they wear them for… what? A few months, tops. Not a lot, comparatively.

Moving on, before my brain hangs the “Do not disturb” sign…

Zen knew. He had done his research. Even then he liked to be informed, even if such knowledge was the stuff of nightmares.

He made me watch a video that explained what had happened to us, or, more accurately, what wouldn’t happen: that we were among the roughly three-quarters of the planet who wouldn’t be able to conceive or carry a full-term delivery in adulthood. Most of us would go irreversibly infertile sometime between our eighteenth and twentieth birthdays, and petri-pregging wouldn’t be a viable option for us at any age. The video was called The End of the World as We Know It and it succeeded in making me so paranoid about what would happen to our depopulated nation—with a special emphasis on the inevitable takeover by the awesomely abundant Chinese—that I signed this letter of promise:

Zen Chen-Chavez and Melody Mayflower promise that if both of us have NOT made a delivery within the next four years, we will bump with each other. This agreement is voided if one of us (Zen!!!) says ANYTHING about it to ANYONE!!!

McCafferty, Megan (2011-04-26). Bumped (pp. 36-37). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Ah, yes, the ever-popular “Blame it on China” syndrome. While not quite as prevalent in YA novels today, it’s interesting how foreign cultures are either used as an exotic backdrop or a looming threat in popular fiction. And how ironic, that I’d be talking about globalisation right before tackling a book where nationalism is more rampant than before.

I’m not quite sure where McCafferty was going with this, and it’s frustrating that the book doesn’t get into more detail. Are countries obsessed with their own heritage and culture out of fear of it dying out? Are they trying to keep medical breakthroughs under wraps so that they can later exploit the patents? Did Romney eventually become president? We’ve no way of knowing.

However, it’s worth mentioning that “rainbow families”, aka families where heritages are mixed up, are valued in this version of the USA, so I’m guessing someone figured out that intermarrying weakens the gene pool.

On a different note, you know what I realised while planning this series? This book is a romantic comedy! That letter of promise? It’s lifted straight out of “My Best Friend’s Wedding”, only it’s about sex and babies instead of a mere marriage (and need I say I feel so effing old, referencing a movie from a time when Julia Roberts was still relevant and Cameron Diaz was not yet Justin's girlfriend?) It even carries the same conflict - what do you do when you love your best friend, but circumstances work against you?

It also combines narratives we’re used to seeing from our movie-lite: the identity confusion, falling in love overnight, the gentle misunderstanding, the Seeing-The-Real-Me… it’s so obvious, I’m surprised I didn’t figure it out before. Though the themes and discussions raised by the book are as serious as they come, the surface plot is, and I mean it in the best way possible, a paint-by-numbers chick flick.

Bumped is, quite literally, delivering what it promises. Compare that to the other YA dystopian novels that have come out in recent years - Eve, Matched, Divergent - where there is talk of rebels and overthrowing the oppressive regime, but those supposed surface plots are pushed to the side, in order to make room for the romance. And, look, I like romance. I eat up Marian Keyes’ books like hotcakes and I would push through a cliche plot if the interactions between love interests capture my attention. But, for some reason, authors now think their book needs to be about something bombastic, like the take down of a totalitarian regime or something, in order for it to be considered worthwhile.

This honestly annoys me because… well… it feels like the writer was just checking off a number on their list instead of actually caring about what they were doing. The proof is that, in addition to the gimmicky worldbuilding, most of the novels I mentioned have no discernible major surface conflict, a satsfactory climax, or a clearly defined villain, even though these components are absolutely vital in any story. By contrast, romantic subplots are richly detailed, have conflict and a discernable arc.

Once again, there is nothing wrong with prioritising inward over outward conflict. Indeed, the great “classic” dystopian novels - 1984, We, Clockwork Orange - are not about taking down the government and war, they’re about individual rebellion and the consequences thereof. I may moan and groan about Eve being a slightly insipid rendition of The Handmaid’s Tale, but plot-wise, it’s not really that different from its inspiration novel.

In fact, the difference I can discern between the two is that, while the classics used the dystopian setting to explore a timely issue - totalitarism, teenage violence, women’s rights - modern dystopias have little to no meaningful commentary to offer, and indeed, end up reinforcing some pretty harmful concepts.

Bumped goes a different way. It says it’s a romantic comedy and it is, indeed, a romantic comedy. It promises to raise discussion on teen pregnancy and reproductive rights, and does so, but subtly. It’s too early to talk about the commentary it provides, but nonetheless, it’s different from everything else in the market.

So why is it that this book, which supposedly gives us what we wanted - a real, smart YA - has a lower GR rating than Halo and the Mortal Instruments?

I’ll wrap this up, because this post has gotten long enough:

Melody goes on to explain why the pact is such a downer for her - she’s been groomed all her life to be a model Surrogette, the prototype for the future: a healthy, pretty, smart girl, who would ensure her future by pregging for money. (Which is so skeevy, I can’t even address it now, but trust me - we’ll get back to it soon!) She explains that the pact she made with Zen goes against everything she was raised to be, and there is no way in Hell that she’d follow up on it.

Only Zen would try to legitimize a pact between two twelve-year-old nubie-pubies who pretended to be more familiar with the how-tos of pregging than we actually were.

Only Zen would have any chance at succeeding.

McCafferty, Megan (2011-04-26). Bumped (p. 40). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Oh, boy, can’t I wait for the Big Gesture scene!
Note: Image via Goodreads.

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