Book Review: Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles

jumping off swingsTitle: Jumping Off Swings

Author: Jo Knowles

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Release Date: August 11, 2009

Source: E-book purchased by reviewer

Reviewer: Cindy Minnich

Summary (From Goodreads): 

One pregnancy. Four friends. It all adds up to a profound time of change in this poignant, sensitively written YA novel.

Ellie remembers how the boys kissed her. Touched her. How they
begged for more. And when she gave it to them, she felt loved. For a while anyway. So when Josh, an eager virgin with a troubled home life, leads her from a party to the backseat of his van, Ellie follows. But their “one-time thing” is far from perfect: Ellie gets pregnant. Josh reacts with shame and heartbreak, while their confidantes, Caleb and Corinne, deal with their own complex swirl of emotions. No matter what Ellie chooses, all four teenagers will be forced to grow up a little faster as a result. Told alternately from each character’s point of view, this deeply insightful novel explores the aftershocks of the biggest decision of one fragile girl’s life — and the realities of leaving innocence behind.

Jumping Off Swings is hardly the same old cautionary tale of boy-hooks-up-with-girl-and-girl-gets-pregnant. Jo Knowles thoughtfully weaves together the thoughts and reactions of four friends to the “one-time thing” that happens between Josh and Ellie – and the consequences that come from it.

What I love about this book is that there is no one same response to what has happened. We learn that Ellie is desperate for love and has been heartbroken more than once by “one-time things.” We learn that her friend Corrine is both frustrated and curious about her best friend’s experiences – and more than a bit disappointed as she is sure from watching her sister’s relationships that you can have a sexual relationship that doesn’t leave you feeling the way Ellie seems to feel. Josh is quick to brag about his sexual conquest to his friends, but he’s haunted by what he saw in Ellie’s face as he quickly got away from her that night out of embarrassment and shame.

Even though I appreciate the other characters’ voices in this story, I find that it’s Caleb’s narrative that intrigues me the most. He has been in love with Ellie since the first grade and hearing the locker room banter of Josh and the other boys who have hooked up with her crushes him – leaving him to realize that “[his] best friend has officially become an asshole” (p. 10 of 149).  Caleb’s smart enough to wonder though if he’s angry about them talking this way about any girl – or if it’s only because they are talking about Ellie…and he wonders if he isn’t any better than the rest of them.

The other part of Caleb’s narrative line in this story is his mother. She is quick to catch on that her son is angry about something and they have a close enough relationship that he feels safe to tell her what’s happened between Josh and Ellie. She challenges the double standard at work in Caleb’s mind when she asks him, “Since when does having sex make someone less special?” (p. 22 of 149). Her questions about the motivations and possible explanations for his friends’ actions challenge the reader to think about public words versus private words/thoughts about sex, values, and attitudes towards the roles of both men and women in intimate relationships as the book goes on and the relationships of the four friends evolve.

This book should be in classroom libraries and easily available to our students. Unfortunately, many students are probably not blessed with parents who would be so open to having these conversations with their children – or they don’t feel comfortable enough talking about these issues with the other adults in their lives. Books offer a safe place to consider these questions and the consequences of their actions and words.

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About CBethM

I'm a book lover and technology geek who happens to also be a high school English teacher, National Writing Project teacher consultant, and certified school librarian. The opinions I offer here are reflective of my thoughts and opinions and not that of my employer, family, or friends.
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