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Jumping off Swings

Review

Jumping off Swings

In Jo Knowles’s well-received first novel, LESSONS FROM A
DEAD GIRL, the author examined how patterns of abuse and
dysfunction formed in childhood can have unforeseen implications
years down the road. In her second work of fiction, JUMPING OFF
SWINGS, Knowles also explores the surprisingly wide-reaching
influence of a single event.

Ellie is a good girl --- a quiet girl, the kind who has never
caused her parents any trouble. But she has quickly become the kind
of girl she never thought she would be: the kind the boys talk
about in the locker room, the kind whose bad reputation is known to
kids in other grades, the kind who finds ugly words scrawled on her
locker, the kind whose parents would be shocked to know what she
does at many parties.

Ellie’s big problem is that she has never learned how to
say no, never learned to value herself the way the boys seem to
when she’s with them: “Their hands felt so good,
wanting me. Needing me. Their words made me feel beautiful.
Irresistible. Even powerful for that one brief moment before it was
over. But I was none of those things. I was nothing.”

Josh has known Ellie since elementary school. But when he has
the chance to have sex with her at a high school party, he jumps at
the opportunity --- he is one of the last of his friends to lose
his virginity, and has heard that Ellie will have sex with anyone.
He doesn’t realize until too late, though, that having sex
with Ellie will not only ruin any friendship they ever had, but
also might change his relationship with his good friend Caleb.

Caleb has loved Ellie forever, but unlike his other guy friends,
he respects her enough to keep his hands off her. So when he hears
Josh and the other guys bragging about their exploits, he’s
not sure how to feel. And when Ellie grows increasingly distant,
he’s worried that he’s lost her, too. He and
Ellie’s best friend, Corinne, share the bond of loving Ellie
and trying to help her however they can.

Corinne knows that Ellie’s parents don’t respect her
--- the fact that everyone is aware that her older sister, Ava, had
an abortion seems to rub off on Corinne’s reputation, too, at
least with Ellie’s family. But when Ellie reveals that
she’s expecting a baby after her night with Josh, Corinne
knows she needs to help Ellie in any way she can, whether Ellie
makes the same choice as Ava or a different one altogether.

Told in chapters from each character’s point of view,
JUMPING OFF SWINGS provides glimpses into each of their lives. It
illustrates not only their interactions with each other, but also
the personal and family challenges each faces, challenges that are
often wound up in this new pregnancy crisis that affects each of
them in different ways.

Young adult novels about teen pregnancy can sometimes seem to be
a dime a dozen. In JUMPING OFF SWINGS, however, Knowles takes a
refreshing approach to the subject, vividly illustrating how a
single event --- one that is too often cloaked in silence and shame
--- actually has a much broader effect than just on the teen
mother. Knowles inspires readers to look at the secrets they share
or hold inside and to think about how their actions can affect a
surprising number of lives.

   -

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 18, 2011

Jumping off Swings
by Jo Knowles

  • Publication Date: August 11, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • ISBN-10: 0763639494
  • ISBN-13: 9780763639495