Book Review: Dear Nobody - Berlie Doherty

: Failed pregnancy parable teaches absolutely nothing, encourages teens to feel shame for being real human beings.

I also stared dramatically out of a window after reading this book because it was so miserable

[vague spoilers throughout]

Dear Nobody is a short, teen novel about a couple of 18 year olds who face an unexpected pregnancy. As we are introduced to the relationship between Chris and Helen and swiftly brought to the main plot point - the pregnancy - (the story moves fast as the book is short - that's about the only good point) they appear, initially, like the perfect childhood sweethearts. They are explicitly committed and besotted with each other despite parental concern that they are too young to be spending so much time together (at 18? really?) and the potential of a long distance university situation in the near future. This apparent devotion doesn't really add up given their actions throughout the book. Even at 18, if you can't even entertain the thought of a potential long term relationship with someone, how can you possibly think you love them? I appreciate that the concept of love is applied quite liberally to different feelings and situations, and that they might mistakenly intensify the feelings they think they have for each other, but it all seems off to me. To see such devotedness quickly segue into the opposite is jarring, and Doherty relies on this inherent and unexplained fickleness.

I'm not sure what the book is really trying to say. The only moral theme that seemed reasonably clear to me was the concept of staunch importance heaped upon education at all costs. Education is of course important, but I resent the stressful pushed narrative that not going to uni will destroy your life and leave you with no prospects (as opposed to ending a significant relationship to pursue a specific line of education and an unknown future). Sometimes other things are legitimately more important than education, and teenagers should be allowed and encouraged to construct their own set of priorities as they grow into adults. The book reads as a preachy fable from the point of view of an adult who has long forgotten what it really feels like to be a teenager on the cusp of adulthood.

For a book about a teenage pregnancy, it's bitterly disappointing that the boy father isn't really held accountable or responsible in a substantial way (excepting one adult character who takes a dislike to him). Numerous characters opine that he is "not ready" for the pregnancy, or even a long term relationship, while Helen resigns herself to the reality and inevitability of her pregnancy. Helen has no choice, but Chris is not just given the choice, but is openly pushed away from taking any responsibility for his child by just about everyone. This is presented uncritically, and is a dangerous message. It's one thing to portray an irresponsible young father who is overwhelmed and selfish in the aftermath of a pregnancy, but for all the book's moralistic warnings, it gives the boy a pretty free ride.

The decisions Chris and Helen make are stupid and nonsensical, but they're also just not quite believable to me considering the intensity of their young relationship. Both pine for each other and yet make every choice possible to distance themselves from each other. One thing that struck me was that Helen never got angry at her controlling mother, who insists that the couple no longer see each other. Helen simply accepts this and resigns herself to a lonely pregnancy. What 18 year old would do this? The book is written at times as if they are a couple of 14 year olds, when in reality they are 18 - barely adults, sure, but they are adults. I understand that Helen feels guilty and possibly quite numb about the situation, but the extreme level of capitulation to her mother's wishes just does not seem realistic and makes for an incredibly boring and depressing read. Helen's mother should elicit more of a vicious reaction, I feel. She reads to me as the villain of the story, but the book doesn't treat her like it.

Dear Nobody spends so much effort pushing the idea that higher education is more important than the commitment of a relationship (and, you know, a baby) despite the inescapable reality of Helen's pregnancy (and how it will affect her prospects) that it feels like it's meant to be a punishment for not being an emotionless, parent-obeying robot. The book ultimately treats Chris' education as something much more important than Helen entirely, and more or less throws her away as a doomed and ruined mother. No life or humanity is afforded to Helen, she is just a mother at the end of the story. As if that is nothing and she is nothing.

Dear Nobody is a dull read at best, and a horrifying, misguided, and punishing anti-love fable at worst.

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted them to be together and for it all to be okay romance-wise even if it was awful actually-having-a-real-actual-baby wise. I really wanted that. I get that it was the way it was for a reason, but you know what, I didn't ask for these emotional feeling emotions that I am having about this book.


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