“Me, Him, Them & It” by Caela Carter
ME is Evelyn Jones, 16, a valedictorian hopeful who’s been playing bad girl to piss off THEM, her cold, distant parents. HIM is Todd, Evelyn’s secret un-boyfriend, who she thought she was just using for sex – until she accidentally fell in love with him. But before Evelyn gets a chance to tell Todd how she feels, something much more important comes up. IT. IT is a fetus. Evelyn is pregnant – and when Todd turns his back on her, Evelyn has no idea who to turn to. Can a cheating father, a stiff, cold mother, a pissed-off BFF, and a (thankfully!) loving aunt with adopted girls of her own help Evelyn make the heart-wrenching decisions that follow?
Evelyn aka Evie: The pregnant protagonist. She’s at the top of her class; a viable contender for valedictorian of St. Mary’s High School in Jacksonville, Fla. A former “good girl” involved in clubs and cross country, she quit caring about extra-curriculars and her reputation after her parents separated and got back together but either fight or ignore each other. She loves studying, having sex with Todd, and two people: her Aunt Linda and her best friend Lizzie. And also Todd, but that’s complicated.
Todd: The baby daddy/friend with benefit. He’s a football-playing BMOC at their Catholic high school who only has sex with Evie but does so in secret so his parents and friends won’t know he’s with the new “bad girl.” He can be clueless but also tender, especially after sexytime.
Lizzie: Evie’s best friend, a beautiful, curvy, and overly chatty good-time gal. She is the only person who knows about Evie and Todd’s year-long dalliance. She tells Evie everything and knows how to keep a secret, and she’s tired of Evie lying to her and not opening up.
Aunt Linda: Evie’s favorite adult in the world; her mom’s little sister, a Chinese adoptee who is nothing like Evie’s mother. She’s affectionate, kind, and a social worker for at-risk teens at a majority minority Chicago high school.
Nora: Aunt Linda’s wife, who is actually a lot like Evie’s mom: a beautiful, blond, super-organized attorney. She and Linda have two adopted little girls.
The Stranger and The Stiff-Ass: This is how Evie refers to her parents for most of the book. Her father is “The Stranger,” because he cheated on her mom and very briefly left the family before realizing he couldn’t live without Evie. The Stiff is her ice-queen mother, a type-A attorney who doesn’t spend much time with Evelyn OR her estranged husband. Both of them do love Evie, but she can’t see that for most of the book.
Jacksonville, Florida and Chicago, Illinois, both cities the author lived in and taught in, according to her bio. But aside from the occasional reference to street names and the fact that Aunt Linda teaches in all-Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago, there’s not much sense of place.
I should say upfront that I don’t think protagonists need to be likable, but if you do, this is probably not the book for you. Evie is NOT your typical candidate for valedictorian. She might have a stellar grade-point average, but she is not a goodie-two-shoes brainiac: she drinks, smokes weed, and has sex. A LOT of sex. Unprotected secret sex. With football player Todd –a “friend with benefits” — no one but her best friend Lizzie even knows she’s been sleeping with for more than a year.
You’d think with her 3.9 GPA she’d know that unprotected sex could lead to pregnancy, but she was too busy playing the bad girl to spite her not-quite-divorced but miserably together parents to care. So from the first page, it’s clear that Evie has a bun in the oven, and she’s at a Planned Parenthood trying to figure out what to do. If you’ve read the comparisons to “Juno,” you’ll know it’s NOT a spoiler to say Evie doesn’t have an abortion. Despite a couple of weeks of obsessing over the possibility of aborting “it,” what Evie really wants is to abort herself — not in a suicidal way, just in the general teen ennui suffered by only privileged children with aloof and unhappy families.
Caela Carter’s writing reminded me of Laurie Halse Anderson’s at times, and I can see the book appealing to readers looking for issue-driven or teen pregnancy novels. There were a few niggling issues that kept me from giving it four stars, like the way Evie kept referring to her lesbian aunt’s wife as a “partner or wife or whatever,” or how Evie claimed to honestly and truly love Todd [but never once told him he was more than just a sex buddy.
And yes, Evelyn is often infuriating. But in the end, Carter does a fine job of developing how someone with little sense of family or unconditional love can find both in obvious and unexpected ways. Grade: B