Told alternately from the perspective of four life-long friends: Caleb, Corrine, Josh and Ellie, Jumping Off Swings is a book that deals with the consequences of teen pregnancy - and the fact that it affects the life of everyone, not just the young mother. Parents, friends, teachers, classmates, the father, mother, the child - everyone. Ellie and Corinne has been friends since elementary school but Corinne has been worried about her beautiful friend ever since she started sleeping with guys and feeling heartbroken when it didn't lead to anything long-term. Sporting a massive crush on Ellie ever since second grade, Caleb is disgusted to find out his friend Josh not only slept with Ellie at a party but then left her and bragged about it to his friends afterwards. Now all four are caught up in the aftermath of depression, anger and scorn as Ellie discovers she is pregnant at 16.
This is a delicate topic all around and I felt like Jo Knowles handled it with all the care it deserved. That said, I still wouldn't recommend it to just anyone: it was such a mature, emotional roller coaster which brought out so many feelings. It wasn't just a fluff story of a girl facing the scorn of family and friends while trying to decide what to do. There was very real character development. All four of the teens voices came across so clearly I understood the choices they made because I knew them. My only problem was I felt like every one of the teens portrayed had a terrible home life, minus one. Which of course can lead to someone making not so wise choices, but still, it seemed more than a little depressing at times.
I was a little unsettled about the relationship between Ellie and her mom however. Ellie basically goes through the whole book with some serious self-esteem/self-worth issues. Coming from a family that isn't exactly the most loving or touchy-feely, she has tried to find that fulfillment in the boys she dates. Okay, I get it: teenager doesn't feel loved (especially by parents) and so turns to boys at a young age. What I have a problem with is the face that even though her mother is basically MIA from her entire life at one point she and Ellie have sort of a kodak moment which seems to ask the reader to believe that even though their relationship has been non-existent up to this point, it will be better in the future. Personally, I really don't see that happening. It wasn't even that grand of a peace offering on her mother's part in the first place and I just felt that Ellie's pain was perhaps a little too serious for her mom's 'too little, too late' gesture. That said, Jo Knowles could have just been illustrating the point that these two completely opposite people will probably struggle to connect for their entire lives.
Overall, it was such a well-written novel reminding me of all the struggles that accompany the teenage years. Part of me is sooo glad they are behind me and part of me cringes to think that I'll have a son facing those same sorts of challenges in a few short years...