Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Review: Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles

Found via: A Chair, a Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

When I was growing up we had a great swing set in my backyard. I absolutely loved going out there when my parents weren't home so I could swing as high as I could before jumping off (I think I would sometimes jump off from lower altitudes when they were around, but that wasn't nearly as exciting). So just from the title of the book I had a very real physical memory to draw upon: the thrill of pushing yourself higher and higher, the decision to leap, the terror of flying through the air before the hard jolt of your landing. Jumping Off Swings may be one of the most perfect non-literal book titles ever.

Jumping Off Swings follows four high school juniors: Ellie, Corinne, Caleb and Josh. Ellie has developed a bit of a "reputation" around school and hooks up with Josh at a party in the back of a car, on top of a blanket covered in dog hair. Corinne, Ellie's best friend, sees Ellie later that night, alone and throwing up in the bushes. Caleb, one of Josh's best friends who has a long-standing crush on Ellie, overhears Josh and some other guys boasting in the locker room on Monday about hooking up with Ellie.

Three months later, Ellie figures out she's pregnant and deduces Josh must be the father. The chapters alternate between the four characters' points of view throughout Ellie's pregnancy, following how her decision to go through with the pregnancy affects all of them.

First of all, I laud the book for having some serious discussions of abortion in this story. Not that I recall the word "abortion" ever being used - I think it was already referred to as "taking care of" the pregnancy. Better than the phrase "shma-shmorshon" used in Knocked Up, but it still felt like a little bit of a cop out. Still, I'm glad that no one just automatically assumed Ellie was going to go through with the pregnancy (and I don't think I'm spoiling anything by confirming that: no one seems to think there's a story in getting an abortion).

This book offers a relatively spare look into how Ellie's choices affect Corinne, Caleb and Josh - I say spare because few other plot elements come up outside of the pregnancy. We see some of Josh's less-than-stellar home-life, and brief glimpses into Ellie's as well, but otherwise everything comes back to the pregnancy. It's a narrow focus, but it's done well, with excellently realized characters that make this book a hard one to put down.
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