Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing Unexpecting by Jen Bailey. This YA queer story had an interesting premise, a cute cover, and a comp to Heartstopper, which made me jump at the opportunity to accept an ARC from the publisher. Unexpecting is available now wherever you get your books!
Juno meets Heartstopper in this poignant and emotional story about found family, what it means to be a parent, and falling in love.
Benjamin Morrison is about to start junior year of high school and while his family is challenging, he is pretty content with his life, with his two best friends, and being a part of the robotics club. Until an experiment at science camp has completely unexpected consequences.
He is going to be a father. Something his mother was not expecting after he came out as gay and she certainly wasn’t expecting that he would want to raise the baby as a single father. But together they come up with a plan to prepare Ben for fatherhood and fight for his rights.
The weight of Ben’s decision presses down on him. He’s always tired, his grades fall, and tension rises between his mom and stepfather. He’s letting down his friends in the robotics club whose future hinges on his expertise. If it wasn’t for his renewed friendship (and maybe more) with a boy from his past, he wouldn’t be able to face the daily ridicule at school or the crumbling relationship with his best friends.
With every new challenge, every new sacrifice he has to make, Ben questions his choice. He’s lived with a void in his heart where a father’s presence should have been, and the fear of putting his own child through that keeps him clinging to his decision. When the baby might be in danger, Ben’s faced with a heart wrenching realization: sometimes being a parent means making the hard choices even if they are the choices you don’t want to make…
***Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read this one, but the interesting premise and comparison to Heartstopper ultimately got me to give Unexpecting a try. The book was easy to read with approachable prose and a tight plot. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, per se. I just think this was a case of the book not really being for me. The comp to Heartstopper didn’t fit, either, which left me kind of annoyed.
I found the main character in Unexpecting really hard to relate to for most of the story. Ben was so smart and logical, yet also so incredibly clueless. I got the sense that he was autistic, but the book never addressed it outright. I think it might have worked better if the narrative, and the characters, had tackled it directly and focused on how the autism could have been impacting his decision-making. I did like Ben by the end, though, and his growth in the last quarter of the book was really emotional. I just wish it hadn’t taken so much of the story to get there.
There were some things about Unexpecting that made me a bit uncomfortable. I think teen pregnancy stories probably just aren’t something I enjoy reading. However, I also really hated how so much of the book discounted the mother’s voice. I get that the perspective was Ben’s, but the whole thing just made me feel icky for most of the book. His tunnel vision made the baby feel more like an object, and he treated his friends, including the baby’s mom, pretty horribly. I get that it was probably on purpose to highlight his growth later in the book, but I almost DNF’d the book early on because of it.
The story in Unexpecting also failed to deliver what I wanted from the premise. I was intrigued by the idea of a gay teen dad and how the unexpected pregnancy would impact Ben’s identity development. While the story touched on the strange nature of the situation and briefly showcased how other’s reacted to it, there wasn’t a ton of depth to the exploration of how it changed Ben’s view of himself. So much of the story was just stuck in Ben’s tunnel vision, and it got old fast.
The thing I loved most about Unexpecting was how it examined what it means to be a parent and a family. Ben’s step-father was my favorite character of the entire book, and I loved seeing his relationship with Ben grow and become the catalyst for Ben to understand that blood doesn’t make a family. I also enjoyed the romance subplot. Gio was such a great support for Ben, and their relationship was really sweet. I wish we’d gotten to see even more of it.
Overall, Unexpecting was a solid YA drama with cute romance and a beautiful message about family. I’m sure some people will love it. I just couldn’t really get past how uncomfortable I felt about the teen pregnancy and the main character’s reaction to it. Therefore, I rate this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Have you read Unexpecting? If so, let me know your thoughts down in the comments!