Like in any good society nowadays in ya lit, the world which Megan McCafferty creates in Bumped starts with a virus that makes everyone over the age of 18 sterile. Unlike in other worlds, where teen girls are forced into birth-slavery though, in this one, girls are paid big bucks to carry children for those who have crossed the 18 year threshold. Melody, one of the two main characters in the story, has been offered a mega deal by a couple, and her womb has suddenly become gold territory in the world. While her adoptive parents are excited, she’s a little worried and angry about the deal because she’s got a massive crush on her friend Zen. See, in this world she can’t express that or follow through on it because that would be a waste of her physical resources.
Things get even more complicated, though, when Harmony, Melody’s long lost twin sister, shows up at the door. Harmony’s come to grab her sister back from the dark side and instead train her in the ways of her lifestyle on the religious Goodside. Toss in a case of mistaken identity sure to happen when twins are involved in a story, and you suddenly have more and fewer problems than you had from the beginning of the novel.
Bumped was one heck of a hilarious book. So many reviewers have commented on this book, suggesting it’s strange or not as enjoyable as they hoped, but I actually really liked it. Though this is not my usual fair, I loved the spoof on the influx of dystopian worlds in the ya world today. This is satire done well.
In the beginning of the story, readers are tossed in the midst of this world, and there’s little to grasp. McCafferty doesn’t offer us the rules or the history of this society for quite a long time; in fact, it’s not until many chapters in that we understand why Melody’s fertility’s been sold off to a high bidder. It’s not until near the end we understand why she has scored such a mega deal with a genetically perfect rockstar of a bumping partner, Jondoe. Likewise, we don’t really get exposed to the relationship that exists (and develops) between Melody and Zen for quite a while: it’s not really important. It ends up playing a pivotal role in the story later on, but the growth and investment in that relationship doesn’t matter that much in the context of the story. It’s more a plot device. Then when Harmony enters into the story, the plot becomes even more complex and unexplained.
What McCafferty does is trust us to go with it and experience the absurdity right along with both the characters. She wants us as readers to draw upon our knowledge and experience of future and dystopian worlds and see what it’s like when every single one of them collides. This is what many readers seem to be missing in the story — it’s not meant to be a fully realized world and the characters aren’t meant to be fully developed beings. Instead, we’re supposed to get a kick out of the idea of twins separated at birth reuniting then experiencing (and perhaps reveling in!) mistaken identity; that anyone over 18 suddenly gets a virus and loses fertility and must resort to bribing teenage girls to have babies for them; that there’s a girl who gets a great deal but instead is considering throwing it all away in the name of love to another teenager; and, of course, the fact that one twin comes from the crazy religious group and wants to save her sister from her life of sin. Let us not forget, too, that this is indeed the first book in a series.
It’s insane. It’s hilarious. It’s spot on. And in this strange way, it works so well.
Perhaps my favorite part of the book, though, was the language. Like any sci-fi, dystopian world, there’s a lexicon to learn. The way it was used reminded me a lot of M. T. Anderson’s Feed: it’s strange enough to be different but understandable enough to make perfect sense to the reader. For some readers, it might be a turn off, especially given the lack of laying out the world and its rules clearly, but other readers will eat it up.
I think many readers have been unfair to this book because it’s the first book that McCafferty’s published since her Jessica Darling series. Whereas that series is a contemporary fiction and one that many readers (yours included) fell in love with, it’s a completely different and unrelated book to Bumped. Comparing the two isn’t fair, and in fact, I think it speaks to McCafferty’s strengths as a writer that she can produce two entirely different story lines successfully.
Pass this story off to your fans of quirky stories — I would think your fans of stories like Natalie Standiford’s would appreciate this book quite a bit, even though it’s less contemporary and more science fiction. This will also work quite well for your fans of dystopian fiction: they will see what McCafferty’s doing and appreciate it. I think those who appreciated Julia Karr’s XVI, M. T. Anderson’s Feed, and similar titles will eat this up. Of course, this is one to also hand off to those who enjoy a great satire. Be warned, though: there is frank discussion of sex and reproduction in this book, so it’s not one for your younger or more sensitive readers.
Review copy received from the publisher. Bumped will be published April 28.