Teen pregnancy has probably existed as long as there have been people, so it was about time that young adult science fiction caught up to reality. Authors Martin Leicht and Isla Neal saw this gaping hole in the genre, and they've filled it with this quirky action-packed novel, Mothership: Book One of the Ever-Expanding Universe.
Elvie Nara wants nothing more than to join the mission to colonize Mars, once she's become an engineer. Unfortunately, her plan may be derailed by her one-time dalliance with Cole Archer, a mysterious new hot guy at school, who promptly disappeared when Elvie discovered she was in the family way. Now she's spending her last trimester at the Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers on the low-orbital cruiser Echidna.
Things get dicey when the Echidna is attacked by space commandos with ray guns, and the school staff responds by trying to kill all the students. Elvie's engineering background and knowledge of the ship quickly become the only thing that will save her and the other pregnant girls. Along the way she uncovers an interplanetary alien conspiracy.
This book isn't for everyone, as it's filled with a particular sort of glib teen comedy that calls to mind the film Juno or the show Daria. If the following exchange isn't your cup of tea, you should probably walk right on by:
"Cole is . . . ," I begin to tell Ramona, the then realize that the English language doesn't have the right word for what Cole is. Boyfriend? No. Ex? It's hard to be an ex if you were never a boyfriend. Raging douchetard from planet Ass Hat? Closer. "Cole is the Picasso of Lower Merion High School," I tell Ramona. I point to my baby bump. "Behold, Guernica."
"Aaahhh," she says, nodding in Cole's direction. "Well it's nice to meet the artist in his prime."
Most of the secondary characters are defined by a single trait: bitchy cheerleader, idiot hunk, gothy burnout, weird artist. But in a book where the best friend's nickname is Ducky after the character in Pretty in Pink, it feels more like an homage than bad writing. Plus at least Elvie is a complex character, who's really just trying to get through increasingly bizarre day with with as much of her dignity intact as possible. Elvie is an example of what seems to be a trend in teen science fiction heroines. She's not a genetically altered super being, or a badass fighter. Like a lot of Golden Age heroes, she's an engineer. And it's not a tacked-on element of her personality, for the plot's sake. She's proud of her abilities and they define many of her relationships to others – she gets close to Cole by fixing the software emulators on his classic car.
But this isn't just a book about a girl with a mouth and a pregnant belly – it's got heart and a brain too. Elvie's relationship with her preparedness-obsessed dad includes some really touching moments. And her friendship with Ducky is both believable and sweet.
There's also some heavy intellectual lifting going on in the background. The book doesn't shy away from things like the politicization of the pregnant body, though it's done so non-didactically, I wonder if a teen reader would even notice that what seems to be a standoff in a doctor's office is really about the way different individuals view pregnant bodies and place value on them.
The book is also about choice — but not so much in the way the current abortion debate frames it. In the book, politicians have reached a compromise on our current political stalemate, which has allowed them to get on with creating cold fusion. The book is about choice in all sorts of other ways: choosing who to love, choosing one life path over another, choosing parenthood. And about what happens when other people make choices for you, or lie about the consequences of those choices.
All that thinking and mushy stuff is in between running from aliens and surviving the obstacle course of a slowly collapsing space ship. And before the sudden twist ending, that suggests the sequels will have to delve deeper into world-building and alien machinations. If you're looking for some heavy duty sarcasm and a heroine who is smart and tough, and if you're willing to believe that in 2074, teenagers will be saying things like "You're a better man than I, Gunga Din," then Mothership is definitely a book to check out.