New Year’s Eve can often occasion reckless behaviour, but not always with far-reaching consequences. One act of lovemaking between studious, dutiful, virgin Mel and her polar opposite boyfriend Sid results in the creation of a baby: Little Bang. Mel is on course for Cambridge University: Sid is on course for total failure in his GCSEs and he harbours an unformed desire to be a musician and song writer. To make matters worse, they live in Northern Ireland, where abortion was banned until 2019-and is often difficult to obtain even now.
What can they do? Mel’s deeply Christian pro-life parents insist that she must keep the baby: Sid’s feisty, unconventional mother Lucille-who brought up Sid on her own- advocates abortion, which would mean Mel travelling to England to have the procedure alone. All is confusion and high emotion and Mel, overwhelmed by her parents, reluctantly agrees that her pregnancy will go to full term. Sid’s love for Mel causes him to rethink his life and leave school to take on a series of part-time jobs so that he can eventually support her and the baby.
McCaughrain creates entirely believable teenage characters: Sid is no stereotypical drop-out and Mel is not in thrall to her parents’ predictable response to her dilemma. Underneath the stances they have adopted run the powerful urges of a career in music and a prestigious university education respectively. But more immediately still are their learned responses to abortion-it’s murder, it’s a shameful act, it’s a cowardly way of avoiding responsibility, it’s selfish-all of which castigate the woman and elevate the man to someone who was betrayed, robbed of his child, entitled to sympathy.
Mel’s decision to have an abortion and her lonely journey to get one weren’t the worst of her sufferings. The hardest thing to bear was the failure of her friends, schoolmates, mother-and even Sid-to understand that the decision had to be hers, that pregnancy and its effect on the mother is very different to its effect on the father and she had to decide what was right for her, for her life. This is a timely and thought-provoking book and an essential buy for school libraries and discussion groups. It never preaches, often entertains and has the cast-iron ring of truth. It also has a remarkable character in Sid’s mother, Lucille and a happy ending with no whiff of sentiment or contrivance: first-rate indeed!