CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 17 . . . . January 13, 2017
When shy Francis Sloan meets streetwise and edgy Sawyer, he is swept away. Sawyer is 16 and from the East Side of Vancouver, a world away from 15-year-old Francis's leafy private-school life, and he is drawn to her like a moth to a flame. Sparks fly between them, and Sawyer becomes pregnant.
Because neither teen is prepared to be a parent, they decide they will put the baby up for adoption and will select the adoptive parents. As they prepare for the baby's arrival, both Sawyer and Francis struggle with the fast track to adulthood and the frightening reality of taking responsibility for a baby. In the process, they learn to depend on a circle of support, both family and friends, and look honestly and closely at their own future.
Neither idealized nor sentimental, Saying Goodbye to London is a detailed road map for unexpected teen pregnancy for both parents. Julie Burtinshaw, a BC author of young adult books on a variety of gritty topics, explores not only the guilt and anger associated with teen pregnancy, but also the sometimes unexpected joy of support and closeness that arise. Readers follow the process of putting a child up for adoption, as well as the application and interview process for selecting adoptive parents. For a teen interested in how the system works, the novel is illuminating and positive.
The story alternates points of view between Sawyer and Francis. Readers see Sawyer's anger at Francis and her tough yet caring approach to her pregnancy. Readers also clearly understand Francis' confusion and refusal to accept responsibility for one occasion of unprotected sex. His denial angers Sawyer, but is a realistic reflection of a 15-year-old boy's thought process. Francis' journey to acceptance and maturity, supported by family and friends, gives a message of hope.
While it is somewhat procedural in following the progress of Sawyer's pregnancy, Saying Goodbye to London is also an exploration of what it means to be a father. Fatherhood is presented in many guises to Francis. His own father is a good provider but is often away from home on business. Francis' best friend's father, a loving dad who has also been Francis' coach, is dying of cancer and is unable to care for his own children any longer. The father of Sawyer's friend, Jack, is an alcoholic who rejects his son because he is gay. Sawyer's dad abandoned her and her mother when Sawyer was young. The prospective parents for their baby provide more examples of possible parenting. From these models, Francis must sort out what it means to be a good dad, and he eventually accepts that the right decision is not always the easy one.
The story has moments of sweet romance along with gritty realism, and teens will be drawn into what feels like a true story. The progress of the pregnancy is tracked with quotations from a pregnancy guide, and the marshalling of social services and family support eventually makes the birth less frightening for all.
The writing presents few surprises but several strengths. The contrast between the privileged private school life Francis leads and the East Side rented-apartment reality of Sawyer and her hard-working mother shows the yawning gap between social classes in a big city, and vivid descriptions evoke the Vancouver landscape. Full of dialogue, the story illustrates realistic teen frustrations and rationalization. Sawyer and Francis are well-drawn characters who are not unflawed but who eventually form part of a loving circle into which baby London is born.
Though teen pregnancy is declining throughout the industrialized world, it is still a challenging reality. Saying Goodbye to London provides an unvarnished look at that reality through the eyes of two believable young adults.
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