Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Anything but normal by Melody Carlson

Anything but normal is the first book of Melody Carlson's that I've read.Carlson is a well known author of teen fiction that explores issues from a Christian perspective. In this book it is the issue of teen sexual activity and teen pregnancy that is explored.

Sophie Ramsay is a 17 year old student entering her senior year in anticipation of having a great year. Sophie  met Dylan Morris at the camp they both worked at during the summer. He told her, her spirit and commitment to God were what attracted him to her. And indeed Sophie was committed to God - she had made a pledge to remain chaste until she married. Now at the end of the summer, Sophie feels deep pain and humiliation. Dylan said he would call her when he returned but never has. When Sophie attends an end of summer get together, where Dylan's family is, she realizes by his behaviour that their summer romance is over.

When she overhears her friends at school discuss guys and how Dylan is the type of guy who would respect a girl whose taken a pledge to remain chaste, she feels betrayed. Sophie knows Dylan isn't that type of guy at all. She struggles to come to terms with breaking her pledge and her guilt. But Sophie fell for his smooth talking and now she's a girl in trouble.

At first, Sophie's response to her situation is denial. She will simply pretend she's not pregnant but underneath she feels fear and hopelessness. When she sees an Unwanted Pregnancy ad at the school, she decides to check out the local clinic, even though she knows abortion to be wrong. At the clinic, Sophie wonders how she was not able to get an Advil at school for menstrual cramps without her parent's consent, but now could obtain a surgical abortion as a minor without her parent's knowledge. When Sophie says she wants an abortion, strangely the counselor suggests that adoption is an option. Not able to get an abortion that day, Sophie abandons the idea.

During this time Sophie attracts the attention of Wes Andrews who is genuinely concerned for her and who thinks she's cool and smart. He asks her to the homecoming dance and because he's so nice, Sophie agrees. While no one is aware of her predicament, Sophie manages to snag the coveted position of chief editor of the school newspaper. It is her writing for the newspaper that Carlson uses as a voice for a discussion on teen pregnancy.

Sophie needs to write an op-ed and decides to write a piece on teen pregnancy and how teens should not be sexually active because they are not mature enough to accept the consequences of such activity, namely becoming parents. When the piece creates controversy within the school, Sophie is confronted by the head of the school teen pregnancy center, who challenges her to visit the center. Sophie is surprised that there are so many girls and that they are from all different backgrounds. So she writes an article about the teen pregnancy center that is published on the front page. This further ignites the controversy and moves it into the community. Sophie finds that she must confront her friends' preconceived notions about the girls who get pregnant, all the while hiding her own condition.

Eventually Sophie decides that she can no longer hide her pregnancy. She feels like she is living a lie. She tells her family and friends, some of whom have difficulty reconciling her actions with the person they know her to be. However, when she tells Pastor Vincent what really happened he is appalled by Dylan's behaviour, mainly because Dylan professed to having a strong faith and a reputation that was respectable. In fact, he took advantage of Sophie and was quite willing to let her suffer the consequences of his actions, alone.

Sadly Dylan represents a lot of young men today, men who use young girls and then abandon them. His true character is revealed in the meeting between Dylan and Sophie's families.

Carlson pulls no punches in letting her readers understand some of what Sophie endures - the fear of discovering an unplanned pregnancy, the denial of the situation, the humiliation of being abandoned by a guy who tells you he loves you just to have sex, the embarrassing gynecological exams, the pain of delivery, the feelings of loss and sadness at giving up your baby, the judgement of friends and family. It's all there but not overdone.

Anything but normal deals with many issues including how many girls are pressured into early sexual activity by manipulative boys, the issues of abortion and adoption, birth control, attitudes towards pregnant teens and the role of abstinence in preventing pregnancy.

Overall I felt Carlson succeeded in presenting these issues in a balanced manner. Sometimes Sophie's voice seemed too mature, particularly when she was observing attitudes in the clinic. The clinic worker presenting the option of adoption seems improbable based on research and anecdotal evidence. Health and abortion clinics tend to promote abortion as the only choice.

I plan to read more of Melody Carlson's books. Readers need to be aware that she does write from a strong evangelical Christian point of view. This is not a drawback but it does affect the overall tone of the book.

Book Details:
Anything but normal by Melody Carlson
Grand Rapids: Revell Publishing  2010
254 pp.

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