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Thursday, December 15, 2011

jumping off swings, written by Jo Knowles. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2009. $9.00 ages 14 and up

"I guess that's why I keep following Ellie around, sneaking glimpses of our growing baby. Because that's all I'll ever get.
I guess that's why I feel like I'm sinking underwater and I can't breathe and I can't call out for help because there's no one there to pull me out anyway.
I guess that's why I feel like I'll die if I don't see my baby before it's gone for good."

Jo Knowles felt that she 'wanted to explore how one pregnancy can affect many people in vastly different and profound ways'. She does exactly that with heartfelt sensitivity. In her second novel for young adults, the voices belong to four friends...Caleb, Corinne, Ellie and Josh. Each of the four is carefully drawn and worthy of our compassion and concern for their future.

Following a one-time sexual encounter with Josh, Ellie discovers that she is pregnant. Ellie is a 'good' girl who has never been in trouble, and who suddenly becomes the target for ridicule, rude remarks and ostracism. Corinne is her best friend and confidante. To her credit, Corinne hangs in there supporting and giving advice when warranted. Josh is ashamed of the way he treated Ellie following their time together, and heartsick about the baby. His best friend Caleb, likewise, listens to Josh's concerns and questions, and tries to help him face the profound changes they are experiencing.

Each of the four characters is complex and very real. Each is growing up much faster than they could have imagined. When Ellie decides not to go through with an abortion; to have the baby and give it up for adoption, they support each other in the best ways they can.

In alternating chapters they share their reactions with candor and maturity. They each face family challenges that are shared with the reader, and that results in a better understanding of the effect that the pregnancy has on each one. Caleb is the one character who has a stake in each of the others' lives. He is Josh's best friend, has loved Ellie for years and helps Corinne help Ellie through the difficulties she is facing. Caleb's mother Liz is pivotal, taking a strong, supportive and influential role in the events as they play out.

Heartbreaking, with no happy endings, this is a book that will pull at your heartstrings for the honesty and hurt in the voices of its very memorable characters:

"I study the scrunched face again, then lift him to my own face and press my lips to his soft little forehead. My tears dampen his warm cheek. My heart aches with the weight of him about to leave my chest.
It's not too late to say I've changed my mind. To keep him after all. And yet I know I won't.
"I'm sorry," I whisper. "I love you."
I close my eyes when the nurse takes him out of my arms. I can't open them again. I can't open them again and see him not here."

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