A teenage pregnancy threatens to tear a troubled family apart in a debut novel as gutsy [and] appealing . . . as its heroines. As grueling as childbirth proves for Kate and Tyler, it is not nearly as painful as what follows. . . . [And] it is the plight of the teenage sisters, in all their clever foolishness, that strikes at the heart. . . Especially meaningful to young adult readers.
Jessica gives an overview of the book:
Of course, it wasn’t a typical nursery. No one would expect any mother on Wildwood Drive to furnish such a room without multiple visits to I Bambini and Cradle in Arms, scooping up plush cotton and soft pastel wools and quilted bedding. But here, in this particular room, on the same sycamore-lined street, no one had festooned a bassinet with lace and ribbons or painted giant moons on the ceiling over a crib. There were no stacks of crisp bleached diapers or fuzzy sleepers, no fancy oak furniture, no fluffy stuffed bears or musical mobiles. But in the closet, empty now of Air Jordans, Doc Martens, and hairballs, Kate and her fifteen-year-old sister Tyler had made a crib out of a cardboard box, a camping pad they’d washed and cut to fit, sheets Kate had bought at the Goodwill for fifty cents, and an old baby blanket she’d found in the steel chest in the basement. The blanket, once bright pink but now faded to the color of melted peppermint ice cream, was one of the many things their mother had been unable to give or throw away. "They are my memories," Kate’s mother Deirdre used to say, smiling, folding up a baby tie-dyed shirt, a tiny sun dress, or a pair of overalls one of them had worn and worn until the fabric was like their own skin, all the happy times somehow grown too small and slipped off them and locked away in their grandfather's army trunk for later viewing.
Now, though, her mother dead, her father Davis gone to work or to his girlfriend Hannah’s most nights of the week, Kate sat quietly in her closet, the door closed, only a fractured round of light coming in at the handle. She breathed in, still tasting the dust in her nose and mouth, even though she had spent hours in here with a bucket and handfuls of rags. She had thought about using Pledge or lemon ammonia but then wondered if the liquids were poisonous, yellow watered flecks somehow worse to breathe than the dusty air itself. But despite the dust and the dark, Kate sat, the slats of the hardwood under her thighs, the smells of her recent childhood in her throat, the softness of her clothes touching her cheeks, forehead, hair.
Kate heard the front door close. Before she stood up, she lifted her shirt, almost as if to say goodbye, rubbing her hand over her belly, the soft stretched skin, the puckered belly button. She had learned how babies were made, but it would have been impossible for someone to really show her what pregnancy was like, unless they had been able to transport her to this body, leaving her old, thin one behind. Month after month, even though no one but she could have noticed at first, she saw her skin stretch and distend and then move, a miracle that even sex could not explain, her insides churning with feeling that no other human thing could compare with. Right now Kate could feel what she thought was the baby's rear, an arc of bone under her skin moving under her fingers. Other times, a triangle of elbow or knee would ripple across her abdomen as she felt the baby turning inside her. Kate imagined this baby, this body, outside her, in the world, and she pictured herself holding it in her arms, bending over the box and setting it down on the blankets, just like any mother.
"I’m back," said Kate's sister Tyler as she pushed into Kate’s room. "What are you doing?"
Kate pulled down her shirt and lifted herself up. "Just thinking."
Tyler swung her hair out of her face and laughed. "In the closet? About what? About the crib?"
"Yeah, about the crib." Kate walked over to Tyler, taking the paper bag her sister held. "What did you get?"
Tyler smiled, pulling the bag away from Kate, taking off her sweater. "You will never believe how cute some of this stuff is. Guess. Guess what I got."
"I don’t want to guess."
"Come on! I was gone all morning. The least you could do is guess."
Kate sat down on her bed, her head and body heavy. "I don't want to. I’m hungry."
Tyler shook her head and closed her eyes, turning finally to Kate, her arms folded across her chest. "You know, I don't have to do this, but I am. Right? All I want you to do is look at what I found. Okay?"
Kate knew she should be grateful, but all she wanted to do was eat and sleep. Just standing up in the closet had tired her, and she didn't care about the baby stuff Tyler found. Kate felt her body go quiet, some faded curtain falling over her as it did each early afternoon. She was awake but still, as if the blood in her head were going to all the organs that really needed it: heart, liver, uterus, kidneys, placenta. Kate felt she could hear her heart beat in every vein, in every cell; she could almost see blood throbbing at the backs of her eyeballs.
Tyler kept talking, and Kate knew that she should be more grateful because Tyler had given up her friends and cheerleading and even her homework for Kate and the baby. But something made her want to shove the bag off the bed and scream. She could yell, "The goddamn crib is in the fucking closet. Who cares about anything else? It's all wrong," but she didn't because she didn't want to believe the words herself. She couldn't bear it if Tyler slammed out of the room like she did when Kate told her about the baby in the first place. Now, so late in her pregnancy, Kate couldn't stand any more days of silence and confusion and fear, desperate to know someone was going to help her. She didn't want to be any more alone than she already was.
"Okay, fine. What did you get?"
"Look," said Tyler, pouring small plastic and fabric things on the bedspread. "This," she said, holding up a blue rubber bulb, "is a nose thing. For boogers, I think. For getting them out."
"Yuck," said Kate, holding the thing in her hand, squeezing it flat and listening to the squeal of air as it expanded back to its original shape. "It’s like a baster. Well . . . here, let me try on you."
Tyler pushed her away impatiently. "Don’t you want to see everything? I mean, look at all this. Here. These are little booties. And these are little mittens. The lady says babies sometimes scratch themselves. And this is a clip to hold a pacifier to an outfit or something . . .They didn’t have pacifiers. The lady said we’ve got to buy those new, like they can be dangerous and stuff. Anyway, she said that babies really shouldn't have pacifiers, but I had already bought it . . . "
As Kate listened to her sister, "What lady?" she said finally, interrupting Tyler, who was twirling a water-filled teething ring on her index finger.
"What do you mean?" Tyler turned toward Kate, her brown eyes the color of cracked amber marbles.
"You said, ‘the lady said.’ What lady? What lady said what?"
Tyler hid her face under her blonde hair and began putting everything back in the bag. "Oh, the lady at Second Time Around . . .. I’m going to put this all in the closet. Are you still hungry? I can make us some melted cheese sandwiches and milk shakes. Did the school call again?"
"Tyler, what lady?" said Kate, the pounding in her eyes stronger, the room pulsing with her body.
Tyler sat down on the bed, running her hand on Kate’s arm. "It's fine. It's just that I went to the clinic on the way home. I’m just worried. Nobody knows what is going on here but us. You’re so tired all the time. I think . . . I’m scared, Kate. I don’t think I can do this."
Tyler leaned her head on Kate’s shoulder, but Kate stood up suddenly, Tyler still at a right tilt on the bed. "You went to the Oak Creek clinic? What did you say? Did you give them your name? What if they call, Tyler? What if Dad finds out?"
Tyler righted herself and stood up, her hands on her hips. "Well, so what? What’s the big damn deal? So what if everyone finds out? It’s not like this stuff never happens, or anything. Like, no one has had a baby? It's not like you're the Virgin Mary or something."
"You just don’t get it, do you?"
"No, I don’t get it. I’ve never really gotten it. Why do we have to do it this way, Kate? You don't have to have the baby in Oak Creek or even Concord. We could run away to Point Jerusalem or even Briones and go to a hospital there when you go into labor. Dad wouldn’t even know we’d left. We’d come back and everything would be normal. I mean, we could still hide the baby, but you'd both be fine. I’m scared to do it here. I don’t want to do it here. I don’t want to be all by myself, Kate." Tyler looked up at her sister. "Can’t you please tell me what else there is? Why we have to do it this way? I won’t tell anybody even if it's . . ." Tyler breathed, then swallowed, "something awful. I swear."
Kate wanted to say, Of course, I’ll tell you. Oh, God, I want someone else to know, but she said, "I can’t tell you, Tyler. I just can’t."
"But why? Who would I tell? Why don’t you trust me?" said Tyler, raising her arms in a sad question, then letting them fall slowly to her sides.
Kate started to say, "You are the only one I trust," but then said nothing, the air in her mouth useless, her vocal cords tense with coiled words. She didn’t have anything left to give her sister, nothing that Tyler wanted, no reassurance, no secret plan, no ardent boyfriend waiting with a fast car, lots of cash, and excuses for everybody. She could not dredge up a happy ending. There was only each day of the pregnancy, the moments leading up to the birth, and then there was nothing but the hope that somehow, with a baby in her arms, everyone would forgive her.
Tyler waited for a word, and then sat down on the bed when Kate said nothing and lay down on the pillow, her hands over her eyes. Kate stood over her, remembering when Tyler was younger and they’d play house, Tyler always the baby even though they were only one and a half years apart, Kate the mom or the dad, but always the one who took care. Mostly, she was a good parent, tucking Tyler and sometimes their best girlfriends Alicia and Brittany into the play beds, making pretend stews in mismatched Tupperware from her mother’s kitchen, reading stories even when she couldn’t actually read, making up the story as she turned the incomprehensible pages. And later, when she had learned to read and much later, after her mother had died, Kate would find books like Heidi or The Secret Garden to read to her sister before they fell asleep, lulling Tyler with the old, predictable happy endings.
Kate sat down, and held Tyler’s ankle in her hand, fingers and thumb crossing over the thin bones as if searching for words from her sister's body, something that would comfort them both. "I’m sorry. You've done so much for me, Tyler. I probably don't deserve it. And I’m scared, too. But, I don’t want anyone to know. I can't take the chance that some lady from the clinic won't think she's really helping out by calling Dad. Then he'll come racing home and surprise us. See me like this, or worse." Kate grimaced, imagining a birthing scene, blood everywhere, her screams, her father opening the bedroom door to a brand-new baby. And then there would be questions, and Kate didn't know where any of her answers would lead. She needed time. She needed time to think, and she needed the baby before the words would come that would make all of this better. "Listen. We just have to do this. We are going to read all the books. If something bad happens, we’ll call 911. Really, at the first sign of trouble. But nothing will. I swear, nothing is going to happen."
Tyler looked up, her hair across her face. "But what about later? What's going to happen then? How long can we keep the baby here, Kate?"
Kate stood up and walked toward the closet, staring down at the crib. Maybe the baby would never even sleep in here, she thought, maybe they will find me out and take me to a home. Maybe they'll make me give it up. The day she moved into the body of the baby's father, her body brilliant with new breath and sound and blood, Kate didn't think about this confusing day, staring at a closet crib, worried that a nosy clinic worker would lead a charge to their house, rousing the neighbors who would whisper, That family is cursed. Nothing has been right since their mother died. Kate shook her head, wishing her mother were here to tell her what to do and whom to trust. But Deirdre wasn't there, and she never would be again, and Kate knew she had to hold her baby, hold it tight, keep it to her until there was the time she could say, "It's mine. The baby is mine." Just as her mother had held Tyler and her, every day, almost until the very last minute she was alive.
"I don't know," said Kate. "I . . . you really just need to trust me, okay? Somehow, it will all work out. I swear."