By Gaby Rodriguez with Jenna Glatzer. Simon and Schuster, 2012. 218 pages, hardcover.
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By now there are probably few people who have not heard of this book or the Lifetime movie based on it. Gaby tells of being hounded by news crews almost as soon as she shared her project with her school. That attention leads to one of the book's many unanswered questions- how did Good Morning America get a 17-year-old girl's cell phone number? Gaby doesn't know, and neither do we.
What we do know is that Gaby grew frustrated with the negative attention surrounding her and her family, who live in the small town of Topenish, Washington. Her mother gave birth to her as a teen. Like too many teen moms, she had to raise Gaby mostly alone after Gaby's father took off. Unfortunately, Gaby's siblings also had children young, before they were emotionally and financially prepared. This was in spite of Gaby's mother's constant warnings and exhortations not to follow her path.
But Gaby heeded those warnings, and the unspoken one she saw every day in her mother's struggle to make ends meet. When offered the chance to do a senior project, Gaby decides to fake her own pregnancy. With her mother's help, she fashions a prosthetic baby bump to go under her clothes. She goes to a clinic and learns how pregnant women work- the weight gain, mood swings, sickness, erratic appetite, and pregnancy brain. Only her mother, her boyfriend Jorge, close friend Saita, and a handful of teachers and administrators know the truth.
By taking on this role, Gaby gains an empathy for teen mothers she might never have learned otherwise. Friends reject or gossip about her, thinking she cannot hear. Her older brothers, all former teen dads, threaten Jorge with physical harm. Gaby experiences real loneliness and depression. She comes to understand why so many teen dads do leave; they are given almost no positive messages or support. There are few role models, either- successful fathers who can mentor those whose paths they have walked.
Why is that? Nearly everyone agrees that it is a mistake for teenagers to have babies. Why are so few of us willing to help? It seems easier to stand on the sidelines and judge or deride people for their unfortunate choices, like so many of Gaby's classmates. But she teaches us how to do the hard things. Hopefully the attention surrounding this well-written, engaging book will encourage us to ask questions with no easy answers, and to change our thinking about some of our culture's most helpless members.