Jumping off Swings by Jo Knowles: Book Review
By Jo Knowles
Told in four alternating viewpoints, Jumping off Swings by Jo Knowles moves the teens, who are caught in an unexpected situation, through various feeling states to a conclusion—and does so with incredible deftness and reading speed.
Sixteen-year-old Ellie, who comes from a perfect but judgmental family, wants only to feel loved. Hoping to find it with someone, she has one-night stands with several boys. Before long she’s pregnant with Joshua’s baby, after Joshua loses his virginity with her.
From there, the story advances a step at a time, with each of the viewpoint character’s reactions to each new development. Though Ellie isn’t “bad,” she’s branded by her classmates as a slut. She takes it to heart, believing the pregnancy is her punishment. But she does have some friends: Caleb, who’d had a secret crush on her since forever, and her best friend Corrine, who doesn’t abandon her. The baby’s dad, Joshua, isn’t a villain, but is as confused about the situation as Ellie is.
The strength of this novel lies in the alternating viewpoints. Over the course of each teen’s short sections, the reader gains access to that person’s thoughts about the pregnancy as well as his or her current family situation, and how that family came to be—which multiplies the viewpoints to about a dozen. The attitudes and beliefs about what could be done are shown through so many different angles that the reader comes away with a comprehensive view.
In the end Ellie makes a tough and, for our times, unusual decision. Lest society has forgotten, it’s what most girls did a generation or two ago, if they didn’t marry the father. But attitudes slowly shifted and our government’s entitlement programs grew, making it easier to keep one’s baby. In the course of a generation, what’d once been acceptable became mostly unacceptable in the eyes of our society.
With our economy being what it now is, it’s possible that entitlement programs will begin to shrink, and we’ll see attitudes slowly shifting once again. Ellie’s decision will shed light on yet another option for teens who find themselves in the difficult situation of an unplanned pregnancy, and will give everyone, pregnant or not, food for thought.
If you read this book, what do you think about Ellie’s choice?