Book Review of Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles: Not Your Average Problem Novel

Jumping Off Swings*This book review contains spoilers*

In fast-paced gripping prose that will keep readers turning pages, Jo Knowles tells the story of an unplanned pregnancy from the alternating perspectives of 4 high school students. All Ellie wants is to be loved. All Josh wants is to lose his virginity. Their miscommunication introduces the novel, and results in an accidental pregnancy about which the remainder of the story revolves.

Although less heavy-handed than other problem novels, Jumping Off Swings still certainly is a quick read meant for reluctant readers. What sets it most apart from the average pregnancy problem novel, however, is its uncertain ending. Ellie makes the clear choice near the beginning of the novel to rebel against her parents and resist abortion, and ultimately decides to give the child up for adoption, but her desire to keep her child is never resolved. Readers finish the story unsure about whether Ellie regrets her decision or not. In this way Jo Knowles encourages the reader to empathize with the character, and avoids creating a highly polarizing novel that may have otherwise caused some teens to question the choices they’ve made.

Pulling off a short novel with 4 fully developed narrative styles is a difficult task, but with the exception of a few falters, Knowles has met the challenge commendably. By the end of the novel readers not only like the 4 main characters, but they understand why each behaves the way they do. No one is blamed or villainized, and even the parents responsible for a bad home life receive some sympathy from the narrator. Jumping Off Swings is a tenderly told story about acceptance, and I highly recommend it for reluctant readers, fans of emotional dramas, or anyone interested in teen pregnancy.

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