Trouble by Non Pratt review

18138917In the run-up to the announcement of the UK YA Book Prize I’m reading each of the books on the shortlist. For more details about my reading challenge and the shortlist click here.

Hannah’s smart and funny … she’s also fifteen and pregnant. Aaron is new at school and doesn’t want to attract attention. So why does he offer to be the pretend dad to Hannah’s unborn baby? Growing up can be trouble but that’s how you find out what really matters.

I’ll have to be honest. If someone had asked me ‘Hey, fancy reading a book about teenage pregnancy?’ I probably would have wrinkled my nose and said ‘Nah, not so much.’ I definitely wouldn’t have picked this book up on the basis of its cover (!). But because it was part of this shortlist, read it I did. As soon as I started it, any reservations I might have had were swept aside by the pace of this intense and gripping story.

It’s written from two alternating POVs: Hannah Shepherd’s and Aaron Tyler’s. Alternating POV is a pretty established and popular format in YA writing, and in this case the author has used chapters that vary widely in length – some were so short that POV swapped several times in the space of a page, upping the pace at tense moments in the story.

Hannah starts the story as a typical self-centred and sex-obsessed teenager. She spends her evenings down the park getting drunk with her best mate Katie, her face caked in make-up and her skirt length leaving little to the imagination. Their lives revolve around getting off with boys – though as Hannah specifically tells us, she is always very careful to use condoms. Except this one time. And that’s how she ends up pregnant. She baulks at the thought of telling her parents, and instead confides in her nana. But of course, her secret can’t stay hidden forever.

So far, so unsurprising. But then another character is added into the scenario and it starts to get interesting. Aaron Tyler has recently transferred from another school and is trying to keep is head down – we get the picture very early on that something pretty catastrophic must have happened as his whole family have moved to leave his past behind him. He meets Hannah on one of her escapades down the park. She tries to seduce him but he turns her down – not because he thinks she’s unattractive but because he can see through  all the make-up and brazenness to a likeable person who he genuinely wants to get to know. And so starts an unlikely friendship, in which Aaron ends up volunteering to be the pretend father of Hannah’s baby. It’s his way of compensating for a past mistake that he feels very guilty about. It becomes a very genuine and touching friendship and for me the best part of this book was watching it develop. Aaron sets out to help Hannah but in the end she ends up helping him too.

Hannah certainly needs a friend to get her through what she has to face. Non Pratt paints an all too real and vivid picture of just how cruel teenagers can be. News of Hannah’s pregnancy goes viral after Katie leaks the story to queen of the basketball WAGs Marcy. Not only does Hannah have to face public derision and speculation about who the father is – she also loses her best friend, as Katie turns on her and vilifies her in a bid to impress Marcy. She is a spiteful and unpleasant girl and you can’t help but feel sympathetic for Hannah in her isolation. But she does become closer to Aaron and his pals Gideon and Anj as a result, all of whom are genuine people who don’t really care about popularity – so in fact it works out better for her in the end.

Overall I did really enjoy the book and rated the writing highly – it’s very brave, honest and raw. Non Pratt has a talent for really getting inside the minds of her characters and making them seem like real people speaking out to you from the page. My one problem with it was that there seemed to be little space given to dealing with consequences. Because at the end of Hannah’s pregnancy, of course, she will become a mother. Her parents seem to be more concerned that she still passes her exams, which she has to sit when heavily pregnant. There’s no talk of how the family are going to cope with the addition of a baby, and Hannah spends a lot of time thinking about how much she misses feeling sexy but doesn’t really consider how she’s going to cope with being in charge of another person’s well-being for THE REST OF HER LIFE. Then there is the issue of the real father. The revelation of his identity opens a whole can of worms right near the end of the book that is very unsatisfyingly left unresolved. All of which would be a lot to deal with in the space of one book, so I can only assume or hope that there will be a sequel to deal with all of this unfinished business. Please write one, Non Pratt!

 

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