Some things first:
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Last time on Bumped, we talked a little about YA dystopias and romance. Now, we get to see how this actually works.
Now, you might have read my opening and thought: “Wait, aren’t Inciting Incidents supposed to happen in chapter one? Preferably on the first page?”
Yes, as usual, Bumped likes to slap its arse in the face of writing manuals, breaks ALL OF THE RULES, and gives us seven chapters of meandering and info-dumping before it even gets to the inciting incident. Or, at least, the instance in the book where we see an active clash of wills. For the past few chapters (and few weeks, as far as we’re concerned) Melody and Harmony have been circling each other in a sea of awkwardness and weariness and other things that end with the abbreviated version of Bella’s daughter. One is excited about the reunion, but checks her enthusiasm in the face of someone who, let’s face it, doesn’t let much on. One is weirded out and unsure as to how to react. It’s a matter of time before a confrontation, but it’s a slow-burn, like most YA novels.
But unlike most YA novels, it actually happens in the first quarter of the book. Her-her.
So, apparently, Zen brought up the bumping pact not as an attempt to get into Melody’s pants, but to tease her. Hurrah for the lack of questionable consent politics! Enjoy it, as it’s the last time it will make an appearance in this novel.
Then things ratchet up.
“Dose down, Mel, I was just scamming.” Zen’s cheeks dimple even further. “I really came by just to say hey.”
Melody eyes him warily. “So say it.”
Now it’s Melody’s turn to take a step forward, lean in, and get within a few inches of his face.
At first, Zen doesn’t move. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, he brings his face even closer to my sister’s. I watch his lips part and I watch Melody’s expression change to something expectant and—
Oh my grace! Stop watching!
I turn my head left. Newlywed Bliss Kits are on sale at Garden of Eden Sex Shop. . . .
I turn my head right. The young trio from Babiez R U is immodestly strutting by us, flaunting their brand-new FunBumps. . . .
Close . . . your . . . eyes!
But I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t stop watching. I can’t stop watching Melody and Zen as they hypnotically hover almost—almost!—mouth to mouth. . . .
“Hey,” Zen whispers.
I’m startled by a sharp, high cry. Both by the sound and the fact that it came from me.
Melody and Zen lurch away from each other.
“YOU BLINKED FIRST!” they cry in unison.
McCafferty, Megan (2011-04-26). Bumped (p. 41-43). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
We learn three things from that passage. One - Mel and Zen actually have been on the sexual tension train, long enough to be able to make an in-joke of it. Two - this society is very much okay with sex.
And three - it seems like Harmony is very much enticed by it too. But we’ll get to that next week.
As Harmony isn’t used to this kind of unbridled passion before, she gets too hot and flips her veil over her head, in spite of Melody’s insisting that she keep it on. This, of course, makes Zen (and a fair number of people as well) start comparing and contrasting immediately.
Which, of course, is what Mel hates most.
“Sweet Darwin’s revenge,” Zen says, eyes going wide at the sight of my bare face. “You’re Melody!”
Oh my grace. If there’s one thing I’ve already learned about my twin, it’s that she does not like being seen as anything less than unique. I square my shoulders, ready for Melody to explode at Zen. Ma taught me to only raise my voice in praise, never in anger. Despite her musical name, my sister gives little thought to the sounds that come out of her mouth. She doesn’t seem to understand that words can serve as a bomb or a balm and all too often Melody chooses to hurt instead of heal. This time she surprises me. Her words come out not in a ferocious rush, but slowly, like ice.
“She . . . is . . . not . . . me.”
McCafferty, Megan (2011-04-26). Bumped (pp. 43-44). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Harmony is correct - Melody doesn’t like to be seen as anything less than unique, but we’ll soon discover that this isn’t a question of vanity - it’s just the way she’s been conditioned to think. And, let’s be real, the two girls really are not the same. Harmony even has freckles!
On a serious note, though, Melody’s rejection of her twin doesn’t seem to stem from her upbringing or attitude - in fact, Melody’s been very tolerant and symathetic towards Harmony. It’s only when her sister tries to force her ideas down her throat, and when their likeness is brought up, that Melody becomes angry and defencive. It’s worth noting as we go into the next bit.
“Oh well,” she says with a shrug, “I’m done here. I’m taking the shuttle home.”
No! This is going all wrong.
“But what about my veil?” I ask, trying to stay calm.
“If you need it so badly, why don’t you go back to Goodside and get it?” She hesitates for a moment as if she knows she shouldn’t say what she’s about to say, but decides to say it anyway. “Maybe you should go back to Goodside, where you belong.”
McCafferty, Megan (2011-04-26). Bumped (p. 45). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
But it’s understandable, when you’re in Melody’s position. In the last chapter, she told us her parents groomed her to become a perfect surrogette. That if she was pretty enough, smart enough, healthy enough, she’d be one of the successful ones. Wanna know how that translates to me?
“Hey, teenage girl, are you pretty, smart and healthy? Well, congratulations, you’ve been picked as an incubator. You will succeed in life, not because you have brains or beauty, but because they make your uterus attractive! Except, because you have an identical twin, your market price will plummet because there is more than one of you.”
If Melody’s self-esteem hinges on her specialness, it’s no surprise she rejects her sister.
And that’s not even the most interesting part of this.
No, the most interesting part is that the following occurs in the first quarter of the book.
Usual YA books wait a while before having their protagonist and narrating character do something… morally ambiguous (if they bother at all.) Let’s be real: Melody’s not nice. She’s not hospitable or considerate. She doesn’t wonder what drove Harmony to her door, or exhibit the slightest interest in her twin’s life. And now she’s practically throwing her out on the street and leaving her to fend for herself for… what? Unveiling her face? In a way, she’s almost as bad as Harmony’s Church Council and their restrictive rules. And though we know a little about Melody’s established character, it’s still a shock to see her act so jaded.
In popular YA, authors would shy from giving their heroines bad traits, until well into the book. They give the reader time to adjust and understand the protagonist’s motives. Bumped gives us some of that, but not nearly enough to make excuses for the behaviour. And you know, I think it’s a good thing!
We often hear about blank-slate characters and reader self-inserts - it’s easier to identify with a character, after all, if he or she has no notable personality traits, or, at the very least, doesn’t display any character traits that are too far from the conventional. Giving your protagonist more discernible quirks can still get someone to identify, but not nearly on the same scale. And it gets even worse when we look at discernible bad characteristics.
Making your characters act like jerks makes it harder for the audience to identify with them, but… it also makes it easier for them to view the characters with a critical eye.
And I mean characters because Melody’s not the only one being weird in this passage.
Where I belong. If she only knew.
“But . . .” I say, trying not to well up. “I hoped . . .”
“What? That I would give up everything I’ve got here and go back with you? That I would settle down and get married and make”—she spits out the last word—“babies?”
She’s right. I had hoped—unrealistically so, I now see—that my blood sister would share Ma’s and my house- sisters’ enthusiasm for marriage and motherhood. But Melody is nothing like the girls in Goodside. No, her reluctance to fulfill her feminine promise makes her so much more like . . .
McCafferty, Megan (2011-04-26). Bumped (pp. 45-46). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Harmony… has… a thing… for ellipses… okay?
But just to make sure you understood: She didn’t seek out Melody explicitly for a sweet reunion, nor is she trying to get her sister back to Goodside with her because she believes she’s saving her immortal soul. No, Harmony wants Melody to come into a regime that even she, Harmony, feels uncertain about, so that she, Harmony again, would feel less alone and fit in better with the other Churchies.
It’s no wonder readers are critical of this piece.
Anyway, Melody storms off, and Harmony, in an attempt to learn more about her sister (and give her some time to cool off) asks Zen to accompany her to the store, and…
That’s the end of the chapter.
Join me next time, when our discussion will be on a more… sexy subject.
*note: Image via Goodreads.