Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pregnant Pause by Han Nolan — 352 pgs

Elly has always been a handful, but now that she’s pregnant at 16 with her irresponsible boyfriend Lam’s baby, she’s in more trouble than she’s ever been in her life. Elly’s parents are not very sympathetic to her predicament, preferring to spend most of their time in Kenya caring for AIDS babies, a fact that has a lot to do with Elly’s being a wild child. When Elly makes a spur of the moment decision to marry 18 year old Lam, she hasn’t really thought it through and is surprised and more than a little disenchanted when Lam and both sets of parents agree. Now Elly and Lam are being shoehorned into a cabin on the grounds of a weight loss camp for adolescents that’s run by her new in-laws, where she and Lam will be expected to become counselors as well as prepare for their new baby. While Elly is debating her new choice of life for herself, she’s also surrounded by mounting pressure on all sides to hand over the baby to interested family members at its birth. As Elly journeys through her pregnancy at the camp, she discovers that the campers elicit strong maternal instincts from her, and it’s her befriending of one particular camper that touches her in an unusual way. But though Elly is growing and changing in more ways than one, Lam continues his wild streaks of rebellion, and it’s up to Elly to decide what she is to make of her life and the new life that is to be. But when the due date finally approaches, a string of unforeseen events takes place that turns Elly’s world completely upside down, and the cares she once had seem to fall away one by one. In this spunky and very deeply moving novel, Nolan shares the joys and sadness of Elly’s journey through the unpredictable vagaries of teen pregnancy and the way it brings out the true colors of all that surround her.

When I first heard about this book, I was sure it wasn’t for me. A teen pregnancy book is just plain scary to the mother of a teenage girl! But when I read Heather’s review over at Book Addiction, I got the impression that there was more here than met the eye and that this could possibly be a very complex and deep book that would ultimately make me think. The book did a lot more than that. It was snarky and funny without being offensive, and the revelations toward the end had me on the edge of my seat with with heartfelt urgency and more than a little astonishment. It was an unexpected book, and one that I enjoyed a lot.

Elly isn’t your average bad teen. It’s obvious that a lot of her behavior is in response to her parents’ disregard for raising their own daughter and choosing to pour their hearts into other children who they assume need them more. When the book opens, Elly reveals that she’s pregnant and that she is set to marry Lam, though she’s not really sure that’s what she wants. Elly is smart and sassy and holds no illusions that Lam will be the perfect father or husband. It’s almost as if her marriage to Lam is the result of a contest of wills that she didn’t really want to win. Lam is a very obnoxious character, and irresponsible is only the tip of the iceberg with this guy. As a reader, I knew Elly was making a mistake hitching her star to him, but it also became clear that her options were limited. As Lam and Elly’s marriage begins, Lam becomes even more irresponsible and obnoxious, and though Elly is forgiving and laid back about his issues, it’s clear that she and Lam will not have an illustrious future.

The camp where Elly and Lam have become counselors was a very interesting place for this drama to unfold. Here are kids who are struggling with their weight and self-image, and as Elly discovers, a lot of these kids have issues similar to her own. The campers run the gamut of snide and snotty to wounded and anxious, and Elly finds a way to deal with them all on her terms, and in ways that are unconventional but get results. Elly’s dealings with one camper begin to turn into a project of sorts to assist her in becoming more sure of herself and to gain the acceptance of the others around her. As Elly finds her niche among the campers, there’s more than a little drama on the Lam front, and a new forerunner for her attentions causes problems as well. This is all intricately arranged into a neat little bundle of intrigue that will manage to ensnare adult readers as well as teens.

The most interesting aspect of this book was the way that different members of both families hoped to take Elly’s baby for themselves. For most of the book Elly waffles about giving up her baby, never really deciding if she wants to or not. What was interesting to me was the way that these people seemed to only care for the life Elly was carrying and not for Elly herself. This is no revelation though, as Elly can see this for herself as clear as day. I found each side to be incredibly manipulative, as did Elly, and her frank assessment of these people delighted but also saddened me. When things come down to the wire, the stakes grow higher and the fighting family members truly revert to type in a downright disgusting display of behavior. It’s impossible not to be moved by what occurs during the last third of the book, and I was alternately shaking with rage and wiping away tears of confusion.

I didn’t expect this book to be as moving and penetrating as it ultimately was, and I ripped through it in one afternoon. Nolan manages to capture the feelings of her characters precisely and to engage her readers in Elly’s plight from the first moment she opens her mouth. Smart, funny and brash, this is a great example of YA that shouldn’t go unnoticed. It had all the moving parts to suggest that Nolan is an author to be taken seriously, and I loved it. A very touching read. Highly recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

23 comments:

Anita said...

I agree with your first thoughts, really teen pregnancy?? Too close to a nightmare. This book clearly goes much deeper than that, and sounds really interesting.
Recommended by 2 Heathers...I may have to check it out. Wonderful review.

Wall-to-wall books said...

LOL well my baby's 23 (and she's choosing abstinence till marriage) so... safe subject for me. But I used to not be able to read books about abduction!
I do like these kinds of books. This one does sound good. Great review!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds very interesting. I hadn't heard of it, but I love what you say about it, and intend to look for it now!

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

YAY!! I'm so glad you loved it. Wonderful review, as always.

Darlene said...

I read about this one somewhere and thought it sounded good. Your review intrigues me further. I think this will be yet another one for my ever growing list.

Ti said...

Like you, initially it doesn't sound like something I'd read but the setting is so odd. A weight-loss camp? Really? That is a place of angst and frustration for sure. I also think it's strange that her parents want to continue caring for AIDS babies, yet their own daughter is obviously needing help and they aren't there to provide it.

Amy said...

With both you and Heather recommending it so highly I feel like I must read it!

Jenners said...

Oh … it sounds so good and complex and interesting. Wonderful review … this is going on my wish list!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Like you, I would not have taken the initiative to read a book about teen pregnancy. Please! But between you and Heather, I'm not sure I can resist.

Trisha said...

That's so sad that people were more concerned with the baby than the mother....yep, that's just sticking with me from your review. :)

Marie said...

wow! sounds really wonderful and challenging!

bermudaonion said...

I was wondering why you were reading a book like that. It does sound like it gives readers a lot to think about. Would it be a good one to share with a teen?

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

ditto Kathy's question. . .many of the YA books I get end up at the group home for teen girls where I work. Just wondering if I should get the eBook or buy a hard copy to take into work?

Zibilee said...

Kathy and Stacy,
This is the perfect book for YA readers, mostly because it doesn't glamorize teen pregnancy, but also because it's both serious and sober at the same time.

Stacy, I would buy the hard copy for them.

Zibilee said...

Err, that should have read sassy and sober. Sorry!

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I really enjoyed this one because I thought it portrayed a real teenage pregnancy. I didn't feel like it glamorized it in anyway. I'm glad that you really enjoyed it.

Jenny said...

I would never have suspected how moving this book was if it wasn't for your and Heather's reviews! It's crazy to think of parents who just leave like that when they have a child who needs so much support!

Harvee said...

I'd love to read this book. I know grandparents can be awfully possessive! Great review, as always.

Suko said...

Great review, Heather! You've convinced me that this book is worth reading, in spite of the apprehensions we share about this subject. (I haven't even seen Juno!) But, I don't like to think that this young mother-to-be was so utterly neglected by her family--that is a real (or fictional) shame!

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

This might not necessarily be a book I would pick; however, you made it sound very interesting.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I really don't read YA, but this certainly sounds like a worthy read. Great review once again.

Beth F said...

I think I'd really like this -- sounds like it'd make a great book club choice because there's a lot to think about.

TheBookGirl said...

This sounds fascinating. My daughter's in college, so I guess I can afford to say that :)
I am interested in the storyline with the tug of war over the baby and your comments about the last third of the book have me wanting to know what happens...Off to see if the library will have a copy of this one.

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