Megan MacCafferty, popular author of the Jessica Darling series, released two books this April*about a not-so-distant future America in which a worldwide virus has wiped out most of the population’s fertility by the time they’re eighteen years old. This makes fecund adolescents a hot commodity and provides the source of the books’ satire.
McCafferty’s heroines are Melody and Harmony, identical twins separated at birth and living vastly separate lives. Harmony lives in Goodside, a fundamentalist Christian community with Amish and Hutterite overtones, where she has been just married to Ram — after years of spinsterhood, at age sixteen, she was considered a failure at her duty as a female, marrying and producing children. She was taught by her adoptive Ma to live for “JOY: Jesus first, Others second, Yourself third.” She “has God” and lives an irreproachable life, except for the secret non-consummation of her marriage, but she wants to find her sister, and so runs on the day after her wedding night to Otherside, where Melody lives the life of an upscale Surrogette who has been hired out to a couple to produce their baby with a Reprofessional. She’s been raised by her adoptive parents to be perfect surrogate material — she’s Princeton Academy educated, athletic, attractive, accomplished — and when she scores the hottest Repro around, Jondoe, her status as teen queen is set. Nevermind that she doesn’t really want to “bump” with Jondoe (get it? He’s a John Doe, but in this world, sperm donors are celebrities, and Jondoe appears to be as big a “fame gamer” as any). Or that she would sort of like to bump her best friend, Zen, who is smart, cute, funny, and principled but too short to make it as a Repro– bumping with him is not an option according to the rules of Melody’s world. For teen in her world, relationship are about sex, and sex is about procreation (for fame and/ or money), so it’s not only recreational sex that is out of the question — love is, too. Until a twin switcheroo puts Harmony in Melody’s place and Jondoe falls for her. The first novel ends with Harmony running back to Goodside, ashamed of her attraction to Jondoe and convinced he’s just used her to get the job done, while Jondoe pleads with Melody to help him find Harmony and his unborn child.
Thumped begins with Harmony cutting off her braid in defiance of her order and about to give birth to twins that she and Ram will pass off as their own (as we discover, Ram’s been hiding a secret himself). But when she’s about to be excommunicated and have her twin girls taken from her, she runs to Melody in Otherside. Melody has been sporting a realistic “fun bump” (even better than the preteens wear to pretend to be “preg”) and shilling all sorts of products as the hottest of the Hotties, the season’s number one preg teens as she secretly plans to support Zen’s plan for revolution. As the deceptions get sorted out, often quite humorously, McCafferty shows an America which has gone from commodifying sex while simultaneously commodifying abstinence (see the purity movement and their rings) to commodifying the thing that liberals and conservatives fear alike: teen pregnancy. Harmony, Melody, and Jondoe come to recognize how they have been exploited by a system (including their parents and teachers) that sees them more as breeders in some nationwide human puppy mill than as individuals, as kids. It’s a disturbing premise to be sure, and McCafferty presents it in a satirical way that does not detract from the seriousness of her critique. She captures the language of this world so well as it morphs from its origins in corporate product speak to teen slang but maintains the same focus on the hyper-importance of products, whether they’re ProPreg Bars or uteruses or fetuses. Everything and everyone can be bought and sold here to support a seemingly wholesome ideology of serving God or the nation — and it’s not hard to find parallels in our real world to the one Melody and Harmony try to escape.
*Bumped was re-released in April, actually.