Willa has it pretty good. Her mom got remarried, but her step-dad [Jack] is a genuinely nice guy who loves her as if she is his own daughter. She even gets along really well with her step-sisters and their mom. Unfortunately, Willa’s happy little life is about to fall apart. When her mom’s best friend calls from Texas, freaking out about a guy named Budge, a missing twin, and an Amber Alert, Willa starts to realize that there is a lot she doesn’t know about the life she left behind. As it turns out, Budge is her birth father’s nickname. The twin is one of Budge’s daughters from his second marriage. And the Amber Alert was put in place because Budge’s wife and two other daughters were found murdered… Stabbed to death. If that wasn’t freaky enough, Budge and his daughter were potentially sighted at a gas station along a highway that leads to the town where Willa and her mom now live. How do you even begin to process that information?!?
In a world where the Human Sterility Virus (HSV) causes nearly everyone to become sterile after the age of 18, teenage pregnancy becomes both necessary AND trendy. It’s pretty disturbing to think of a world in which teenage girls are basically pimped out as incubators, but McCafferty manages to keep the tone light and funny overall. I especially enjoyed the “FunBumps” (complete with moving “babies” inside) and the t-shirts for tweens that proclaimed they were “Born to Breed.” Some people have accused this book of glorifying teenage pregnancy, but I think they got it completely wrong. If anything, this book derides our culture’s current obsession with teen pregnancy. Shows like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, while reportedly intending to show the harsh reality of teen pregnancy, have actually resulted in the glamorization of teen pregnancy. Need proof? How about news stories about pregnancy pacts, girls trying to get pregnant to get on the show, and the surge in popularity of the names “Maci” and “Bentley” (the names of a featured teen mom and her son).
Beyond the insanity of HSV and teen pregnancy for hire, there is another level of complexity with twin sisters (Melody and Harmony) who were separated at birth and reunited as teens. Harmony was raised in Goodside, a highly religious, gated community in Pennsylvania, where she was raised with the singular goal of being a good wife and mother. Melody grew up in a “normal” community in New Jersey, where she was given every advantage toward the end of attending the best college and bringing in a large amount of money as a surrogate. I cannot even begin to describe how awkward it is when Harmony comes to town to try and “save” Melody from her life of sin, but I can assure you that the questions raised by this book will stick with you long after you put it down.
Geraldine Brooks is known for her compelling historical novels, and Caleb’s Crossing does not disappoint. The story of Caleb, the first Native American Indian Harvard graduate, is narrated by young Bethia Mayfield, daughter of the local minister who begin’s Caleb’s education. Bethia, constrained by the puritanical times of the 1600s, forms a forbidden friendship with young Caleb, learning about the life of his tribe and their surroundings on beautiful Martha’s Vineyard. Their friendship takes her to Cambridge, where she is indentured as a housekeeper and where she can observe the changes in her friend. This is a beautiful and absorbing story!