CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 6 . . . . November 16, 2001
Teenage pregnancy is a compelling topic: adults agonize over the pregnant teen's health, the fetal development, the mother's post-pregnancy situation, the possibility of adoption, how teen mothers can manage to support themselves and a baby. Teens are drawn to the evidence: a pregnant teen has obviously had a sexual relationship with a man. Today, in 2001, the vast majority of teen pregnancies end in abortion or with the teenage mother keeping her baby. Dancing Naked tells the story of 16-year-old Kia who decides to carry her baby to full term and to give her up in an open adoption. Unfortunately, this novel's response to teenage pregnancy is so out of the loop that it seems preachy.
Dancing Naked is full of cliches: the immature, angry, teen father; getting pregnant after "only doing it once"; the compassionate, non-judgmental youth group; the craving for pickles; the thoughtful minister as the first person Kia turns to for help; the 23-year-old youth leader trying to deal with his own homosexuality who has the time and inclination to immerse himself in Kia's situation, and so on. Grace, an elderly woman at the senior's home where Kia volunteers her time, is the only believable character in this book, but even she can't keep from offering Kia advice on her future sex life.
Kia behaves in typical teenage fashion, vacillating between thoughtful, responsible behaviour and petulant sullenness. She hides her pregnancy from her parents who are so reasonable that they let her make her own decision about the pregnancy. Kia's progress at school during this year is a negligible part of the novel. One wonders what the reaction is of her teachers and how she manages to keep up. More problematic is Kia's explanation of why she can't have an abortion. The only reason she can come up with is that the abortion is not right for her.
It is astonishing that Derek, the immature teenage father, is not held responsible financially or in any other way for this pregnancy by Kia's parents or by Kia herself. He is allowed to neatly step out of the picture because of the adoption and his initial reluctance to have anything to do with the pregnancy because his father "will kill him."
Dancing Naked has a tendency to over explain, to tell instead of show, that will alienate teens. At various times, Justin the youth group leader, Kia's parents, the Reverend Petrenko, Sadie the social worker, Grace Kia's elderly friend and Shelley, Kia's girlfriend, all offer paternal/maternal advice. The novel is told in diary, email and third person. The email messages with their teenage slang shorthand (C U there = See you there) may attract up-to-date teens, but the mysterious cover (what is it? the cord and the afterbirth? sperm? - as one of my students guessed - someone dancing naked? ) will keep teens from picking up the book. This novel is divided into three parts (the first trimester, the second trimester, and the third trimester). Each chapter title represents a week of the pregnancy (ex. week 18/40), and the chapter begins with a few notes about the development of the fetus at that week (ex. ~size of a honeydew melon ~ pads of the fingers and toes are formed and the fingerprints are developing).
There is a very moving scene at the end of the book when Kia and Justin and Joanna and Brett hold an adoption ceremony with Reverend Petrenko. However, teens will have trouble overcoming the heavy message, confusing cover and trite cliches.
Marshall is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate, Winnipeg,
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.