Friday, September 02, 2011

Sixteen and Pregnant: Pregnant Pause by Han Nolan

But can we go after a dream and keep this baby? Can we do both?

Inside I'm thinking, I'm only sixteen. A family? Me? Us? I'm not even sure I want to be married. I'm not sure I want my kids to learn to hunt. Shouldn't they be learning more important things? And if so, what are the important things? Am I smart enough to know? Could I ever become a good parent? I'm not sure. I'm not sure of anything. I'm only sixteen.

Up to now Elly Crowe has only been sure of one thing--no one can tell her what to do. But when she becomes pregnant with Lam's baby, she realizes she is on her own. Seven months pregnant, she rejects her parents' demands that she give up the baby to her self-satisfied but childless older sister Sarah and go back with them to their missionary job in Kenya. Elly defiantly agrees to marry the immature Lam and go with him to work for the summer in his parents' camp for overweight kids, Lam to be a lifeguard as usual, while Elly is assigned to help teach crafts and dance. Once there, she quickly sees that his parents' only motivation is persuade her let them take the baby to replace their own lost child.

Elly has no skills outside those involved in resisting adult demands, and with no knowledge of dance, crafting, or managing kids very little younger than herself, she has nothing to draw on but her natural stubborness and innate ability to read others' needs. But as the last two months of her pregnancy play themselves out, she learns a lot--that Lam is a hopelessly immature, addicted, and unfaithful man-child of eighteen, that the other counselors, especially Leo and Ziggy, who become emotionally attached to her, ultimately have their own lives to live, and that only within herself can she find what it takes to make something out of the circumstances she has made for herself.

Things go critical as her due date approaches. At a late-term visit to an obstetrician, Elly learns that she must have a C-section. Then a troubled student with whom Elly spends her last hours inexplicably commits suicide. Elly realizes that Lam's infidelity and drug habit are going to be a permanent part of any relationship with him, and her baby, Emma Rose, is born with Down's syndrome.

Sarah and Lam's parents both reject her imperfect child, and Elly is within a couple of days of irrefutably giving her up for general adoption when she realizes that she is cannot bring herself to do so and must find a way to keep and take care of her child herself, an almost impossible task that will require all of the stubborn determination which she has always applied to her own selfish and self-destructive ends.

The much-lauded National Book Award winner Han Nolan has once again proven herself to be a superb storyteller, one whose every character is a fully-developed individual and who is capable of devising a integrally constructed plot in which the resolution is both unexpected and yet seems inevitable, a product of the characters' interplay and natures. In her forthcoming Pregnant Pause (Harcourt, 2011) Nolan does it all again, with a surprising ending that we realize is fully foreshadowed, and with much insight and humor that makes this well-worn premise into a novel that is hard to put down and harder to see come to its close.

Kirkus Reviews says,"Nolan proves once again that she can take a familiar story to surprising new heights." Indeed she does!

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