Pregnant Pause is a realistic and surprisingly entertaining look at teen pregnancy by National Book Award Winner Han Nolan. Pregnant sixteen-year-old Eleanor Crowe decides, largely to spite her missionary parents, to marry her baby's father, Lam. Lam's parents, though not at all happy about the situation, give Elly and Lam a cabin, and work, at their summer camp for overweight kids. As the summer progresses, Elly starts (slowly, realistically) to grow up. But a crisis at the camp on the baby's delivery date could change everything.
I could not put this book down. Elly is a great character. She's flawed, ever so flawed. But she has this wonderful, honest voice, and it's a true pleasure watching her start to figure things out. Here are a couple of examples of Elly's voice:
"At first, they expected me to go with them. Just give birth, hand my baby over to my sister, and go back to Kenya with them and forget about everything else. They assumed I'd go back there, when I've got my whole life here in Maine. They act like I got pregnant on purpose just so I could stay here. Well, if I had thought of it I might have done that, but it didn't occur to me." (Chapter One)
I love the honesty of that passage. "If I had thought of it I might have".
"I'm thinking I'm going to put out a teen pregnancy magazine. Why not? And it will be real. Real people on the covers, and stories about how real people are dealing with being pregnant, and working and going to school, and parents and friends who are no longer there for you because you just don't fit in anymore, or they're too busy--and so are you, but in a different way--and how it feels to be left out of everything. Yeah, I really ought to start that one up." (Chapter Two)
"I look at the girl, who's smiling now. She really is pretty. She's the kind of girl that looks like she's just made for being fat, like she was probably born that way. I mean, does everybody in the world have to skinny? Aren't we all shapes and sizes, and isn't one size fat? I know, sacrilege, right? People say, "But what about their health?" and blah, blah, blah, but my great-great-grandmother Nora is huge, and she's ninety-nine years old and healthy as a horse, so there." (Chapter Four)
I also quite enjoyed the rural Maine camp setting in Pregnant Pause. The camp felt real, from the inconvenience of the latrines (imagine trudging through the woods every time you need to relieve yourself, at 9 months pregnant), to the up-and-down nature of the "fat camp" food, to the activity cabins. Nolan doesn't beat the reader over the head with "this is set in Maine", but I think that she gets the details right.
I also liked the way the other characters in the book unfold. No one is all good or all bad, even when the inexperienced Elly expects them to be. I saw some of the book's developments coming (in a shaking my head, "oh, Elly" sort of way), while other took me by surprise.
Nolan's treatment of teen pregnancy is realistic, both in Elly's symptoms and discomforts, and in the decisions she has to make. The author strikes a nice balance in getting these things across without making the book depressing, or at all messagey. This comes back, again, to Elly's first person voice. She doesn't feel sorry for herself (for the most part), and she doesn't want the reader to feel sorry for her either. She's dealing with the consequences of her actions, and figuring out what to do next, all the while trying to help the kids in her care at the camp. She's certainly done foolish things in the past, and she does stupid things along the way, too. (No doctor visits until ridiculously close to the end of pregnancy, for example.) But she's still a breath of fresh air, and a much better person than she realizes.
Pregnant Pause is much more than an issue book about teen pregnancy. The camp setting is actually pretty boy-friendly, as is Elly's voice, though I'm not sure how one could describe this book to make teen boys willing to pick it up. I think that any reader, teen or adult, would enjoy spending some time with Elly, and could learn a lot from her (a lot more than, "isn't not a great idea to get pregnant when you're only sixteen"). This is a book that I could see re-reading. Highly recommended for teens and adults.
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books (@hmhbooks)
Publication Date: September 20, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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