If you’ll remember last year, I reviewed Megan McCafferty’s Bumped, calling it insane and hilarious. The dystopian society built in the book was meant to be a satire of not only other books in the genre but of society more generally. It was a world where adults over a certain age couldn’t reproduce, so they purchased the bodies of teen girls to have their children. And at the end of the book, readers were left wondering what happened to twin sisters Harmony and Melody.
Thumped answers those questions and many, many more.
Harmony, the “godly” sister, has returned to Goodside, the community which protects its citizens from the greater world. It’s a bubble and it’s essentially cut off from modernity so the residents can practice their spiritual beliefs without fear. Harmony’s returned to this place pregnant, leaving her also-pregnant sister Melody behind. The girls, both pregnant with twins, will be giving birth at the same time, and the country is so excited about the spectacle that will be the Double Double Due Date. But after 35 weeks apart from one another, neither Harmony nor Melody can stand being apart from one another. It’s not just their sadness for each other though. Harmony is missing Jondoe, the guy who she’d developed real feelings for (who happened to, of course, be the guy who Melody’s body was sold to for reproductive purposes and who shot the sisters into the spotlight in the first place). Enter a series of events that break Harmony free of Goodplace and right in the midst of reuniting with her sister and the guy for whom she really cares.
Of course, everyone’s got their eyes on the girls and their expanding baby bumps. These are two extremely popular celebrity girls now, and they can’t let their fans down. Or can they? Are they even telling the truth about their due dates? About who the fathers of their respective babies are?
Where Bumped was a very plot-driven story, McCafferty flips the switch and makes Thumped a more character-driven story. The first third of the book is a little tough to get through. The writing is a little clunky and the events a little convenient, but they’re forgivable because they’re required to get to the meat of the story. I found the initial book in the series to focus heavily on Melody and her rise to the spotlight, but in this edition, it’s Harmony who has the chance to have a real voice. That’s part of why the weaker writing is forgivable in the beginning: we’re given the opportunity to hear and understand Harmony, why she’s desperate to leave Goodside, and how she plans on pursuing her love for Jondoe (and escaping her marriage to Ram). Where I’d never had feelings about her as a character, I’m given the opportunity to not only develop them, but I really rooted for her. She’d been dragged into the situation by being Melody’s sister and though she’s not bitter, she kind of got the raw end of the deal.
Thumped is an eerie read if for no other reason than the fact the world it describes is so close to our own. Despite being a dystopia, the social realities very much mirror not only what we’re living with now politically, but they also mirror the fears we have about what our world could become. Melody and Harmony’s government is obsessed with protecting its citizens, to the point that their own bodies are seen not as their bodies, but as bodies belonging to the government. This is evident not only through the way the pregnancies are treated, but also through the decisions the girls are not allowed to make. There’s a scene right after Harmony gives birth where the nurse informs her she cannot breastfeed her children because the government had decided it wasn’t the right method for taking care of children. Despite the babies being her own and despite her body’s functional ability to provide nutrients to her children, the government said it wasn’t okay to do. And she can’t fight it. It was during this particular scene that the story began to break my heart much more than it had from the start. Not only have the girls lost their rights to their own bodies, but it’s here where we learn the truth about Harmony and Melody’s mother.
It’s also in these moments post-birth where both girls declare themselves independent and whole beings. They’re no longer interested in being tools for the government and they’re no longer interested in being tools for societal entertainment. More than that, they both come to realize that the decisions other people have made for themselves are not the decisions they have to make and they’re not decisions that they can change or undo. They’re only able to think and act for themselves as individuals. This is a huge moment in the story, not only because of what it says about rebelling against a dystopian world, but also because of what it says for the future of these girls who’d become so enmeshed in a world who followed their every move. They’re no longer going to allow anyone to dictate who or what they are except themselves. Harmony and Melody are taking ownership of their own bodies here, too. McCafferty has a great scene between Melody and her long-time crush where it seems like they’re going to finally consummate their relationship. Except, the boy is unwilling to use a condom since it’s one of the only ones left around and he believes Melody should be fine anyway. That there’d be no worries about the consequences of sex on her body. It’s right here where Melody stands up for herself and where she realizes how important it is to take care of herself, even if it means sacrificing something she always thought she wanted. The fact this is illustrated via condoms — a tool used by a male in a sexual relationship — only further nails home the point.
Thumped is still satirical like the initial story, but that satire begins to lessen as the book progresses. This is where the book excels. Where the girls had seen themselves as satire, as tools to make a point by their government in Bumped, now they’ve woken up and come to understand they’re full beings. They’re the ones who are in control of their future and their decisions and if they want to say no, they can do that. Their happiness and satisfaction with their own lives are not contingent upon anyone but themselves. If they do not want to live their lives under religious canopies, they don’t have to. If they don’t want their bodies to become tools for population growth, they don’t have to. If they don’t want to be in an unhappy marriage or relationship, they don’t have to. Bumped was the story the government wanted to tell — that’s why it’s so plot-driven — but Thumped is the girls’ story. That’s why it is so character driven. I didn’t think I’d find myself welling up reading this book, but I definitely did. The messages here are fantastic, feminist, powerful, and really damn pertinent and relevant to today’s world.
This isn’t an easy read and it is essential to read the first book before diving into Thumped, but this is the kind of book that should be read and discussed with teens. It’s smart without being pretentious and without hitting the reader over the head with messages. I think that’s part of why I did get a little teary. The emotional impact of the book is unexpected and a great payoff. Melody kind of sums it all up with these lines: “I’m the only one who will take credit for my successes. And I’m the only one who will take the blame for my mistakes. From now on, I live for me.” Hand this book off to those who have read and loved the first book and to those looking for a unique take on the dystopia trend (after, of course, making them read Bumped). McCafferty ranks high on my list of favorite authors and this book only further solidified it.
I don’t usually talk about covers in my reviews, but I have to say: this cover, as well as the cover for the predecessor, are absolutely brilliant. If I had to describe these two stories via one image each, Bumped would be the whole and perfect egg while Thumped would be the one that’s cracked. So simple yet so meaningful.
Review copy received from the author via the publisher. Thumped is available now.