When I read the blurb for this new queer YA story I was immediately intrigued. “Juno meets Heartstopper in this poignant and emotional story about found family, what it means to be a parent, and falling in love.” That definitely sounded like something that would be right up my alley. And I really did enjoy this adorable story about a teen pregnancy with a twist, but not quite as much as I’d hoped for.
The story follows sixteen-year-old science geek Ben Morris shortly after he (1) has come out as gay and (2) has received the surprise of his life when an experiment at science camp has had completely unexpected consequences: a baby. When the mother in question, Ben’s best friend Maxie, wants to give the baby up for adoption, Ben tries to fight for his rights and to prepare himself for fatherhood as a single dad. Starting junior year, Ben struggles with the weight of this decision alongside the financial problems for his beloved robotics club, the challenge to keep up with school and friends, and not the least a budding romance.
Unexpecting had such a huge potential to tell a unique story and show the side of a teen pregnancy from the young dad’s view, especially with the added twist that he’d already come out as gay. And while some of these aspects were explored in a great way and the story all in all was a heartwarming and sweet portrait of an awkward and anxious yet strong and brave teenage boy facing the biggest and most scary thing in his life, I still feel like it could have been so much more.
My main issue was the plot premise itself. Firstly, about the actual act of conceiving. I mean, I could understand how the act itself happened as an experiment between two science geeks, where one wanted to make sure he was gay and one wanted to dissect virginity as a social construct, but not how the broken condom wasn’t even mentioned until halfway in the book. For a long time, it seemed like they’d been reckless enough to not even use a condom, which made no sense at all for these two characters. Especially since they weren’t drunk and it wasn’t in the spur of the moment or any other circumstances that could explain it. And even after the revelation that they had used a condom, but it had broken, it would have been better to make it into a bigger deal for the credibility of the story. Ben and Maxie should have been worried when it happened and after, at least addressing the possibility she could get pregnant before she just handed the adoption papers to Ben. Secondly, I also had issues with how quickly Ben came to the conclusion to keep the baby and how he still acted kind of childish and worried mostly about the job schedule to have time for the robotics team. He should at least have come to realize that raising a baby gives you no time for extracurricular activities whatsoever. I also really think that before coming to the conclusion to become a dad at sixteen he also should have had some doubts about giving up college or questioning how to make it work. It took until half of the book until he finally realized that raising a child has some real consequences and that he wouldn’t be able to go to MIT or the robotics summer camp as planned. And that was only because his mother told him so, not because he figured it out himself.
For the most part of the book, I felt a lot like Maxie when she confronted Ben about why he wanted to keep the baby. “Ben, I don’t get why you’re pushing this. Why would you let this disrupt your life, your plans, when you don’t have to.” and all Ben had to say was “You wouldn’t understand.” No, of course she wouldn’t, since I as a reader truly couldn’t understand it either.
Because of this, and because of the way Ben not once considered how Maxie was dealing with everything and offering his support, but just focusing on himself, he felt very childish and whiny and nowhere ready to be a parent. I also never understood the rationale for treating his other best friend, Mo, the way he did.
But on the other hand, I’m also glad that the author allowed Ben to completely be himself, not shying away from his flaws and less likable traits. His character development in the end was also truly great, and the decision he eventually made in the end was so wholesome. So a bit of mixed feelings for Ben as a main character, but eventually he made his way into my heart.
Some of the other main characters were truly amazing from the very beginning though. Like Ben’s mother who right away took Ben’s side even though she realized the hardship it would bring, and Roger, Ben’s supportive step dad. And of course Gio, Ben’s love interest. Gio was my absolute favorite, such a sweetheart, and so wise, empathic and caring. I really rooted for him right from the start, even though I didn’t fully understand what he saw in Ben and therefore never felt fully invested in their romance.
But all in all, Unexpecting was an entertaining, sweet and heartfelt YA story, with great representation and a unique plot with a fresh take on a teenager’s struggle to learn what matters most in life. So even though it wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, I am definitely curious to read more of Jen Bailey’s books ahead.
Thank you Wednesday Books for the ARC and the opportunity to read this book! All opinions are my own and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
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