Jo Knowles' Jumping Off Swings is a well-crafted, realistic, and engaging read. Often, young adult books that deal with teen pregnancy seem to play into stereotypes about teens and don't really get into the underlying issues of why teen pregnancy happens. Also, I find that a ton of books that focus on teen parenthood do not represent the feelings of the teen father. Not true with this book.
This story is told from four points of view. They are:
Ellie: Quiet and kind of lost, Ellie feels like she needs to sleep with boys to get their attention. She realizes too late that the attention she craves will not last past the "hook-up" at the party. Her parents are present, but not. Ellie relies heavily on the advice and understanding of her best friend Corinne.
Corinne: Lots of YA books feature best friendships that are shallow and ultimately not very friendly. Corinne is the opposite of the catty, immature friend that we've all read about. She is intelligent and supportive and sticks with Ellie throughout Ellie's pregnancy. More than this, she even helps Ellie to reach out to adults and to make some important decisions regarding her pregnancy and her habit of seeking attention through sex. She's a great character.
Josh: The father of the baby doesn't know that he's the father until his "relationship" with Ellie is so awkward that he cannot approach her. Josh slept with Ellie because he was feeling pressure to have sex, but did not want to hurt her. This unintended hurt leads to Josh feeling like he has no say in the life of his unborn child. His own childhood was miserable--filled with his father's drinking and his mother's absence. I really felt for this kid. He was sensitive and kind and wanted to do the right thing, but had no idea what that was.
Caleb: Probably the most mature and grounded of the the four, Caleb has a loving mother and is a supportive friend. He has had a crush on Ellie ever since they were little kids, and he turns this love into a friendship when Ellie needs it the most. Caleb's mother is awesome in a way that most YA parents (and actual parents) are not. She allows the kids to hang out at her house and talks with them about their problems and gives advice, but gives them room to breathe and make their own decisions.
This book needs to be in the hands of teens. It has appeal for both male and female readers, I believe, because the male and female characters are so strong and real-feeling. This controversial and all-too-real topic is dealt with in a mature, gentle fashion and the voices that Knowles creates for her characters make them feel like they are kids you know. I cannot recommend this book with more conviction!