‘The Baby’ by Lisa Drakeford

*This review will contain spoilers!*

‘How can she explain what she did? How can she love Olivia so much and yet betray her so badly? She shudders at the thought. It all seems years ago now. She was a different person.’ 

On the night of Olivia’s 17th birthday party, her best friend Nicola gives birth on her bathroom floor. Standard teenage party antics! It would have been super helpful if Nicola had known she was pregnant, or if the father of the baby wasn’t Jonty, Olivia’s boyfriend of 6 years, but unfortunately both of those facts are totally true.
Told over a span of five months (one month for each character featured on the cover) ‘The Baby’ is an adorable and wonderful contemporary… Until the last forty pages absolutely destroys everything that Lisa Drakeford has crafted.
Following Nicola and Jonty as they learn how to cope as teenage parents is fascinating, heart-warming and inspiring. Nicola has had a strained relationship with her mother, but they bond over their love of the baby and Nicola’s determination to keep her despite the struggles she then experiences. Jonty was abusive towards Olivia – being both controlling and physically abusive, pinching and pulling her hair – after his mother abandoned him, but when Eliza is born he swears that he’ll never be violent towards her and that he’ll change who he is.
As well as their stories, we follow Olivia as she comes to terms with the betrayal of her best friend and her boyfriend, Alice (Olivia’s sister) who struggles to make friends due to her mental disorder, and Ben (the gay best friend) who is rapidly falling in love with Josh Strong, a player on the school football team.
Olivia’s character is so mature and wonderfully crafted, because she is completely selfless and forgets all of her problems to help Nicola, despite how much she helped her. It’s one of the most honest depictions of friendship I’ve encountered in YA – often, no matter how much people hurt us we’ll help them without a second thought!
Meanwhile, there’s Alice attempting to find a friend, which is very easy to relate to – I’m sure most people have struggled with being bullied and being lonely, so even without the added factor of her mental illness it’s a very touching chapter. I’m assuming that Alice is autistic (she struggles with people, yet she has an aptitude for maths and her voice is very reminiscent of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’) but it’s never explicitly stated or dealt with, which I feel is a bit of a weak decision. If people haven’t encountered portrayals of autism in fiction before I can imagine Alice’s condition would have been confusing, and because she’s bullied and called a freak it does worry me that people might just assume she was randomly strange.
The worst chapter of all for me was the final chapter, which followed Ben. The book had already been filled to the brim with stereotypes throughout (teenage pregnancy, the best friend sleeping with the boyfriend, all of their friends being white and middle-class, the difficult little sister, the token gay character, and the one character who could be vaguely described as poor being a tracksuit-wearing tyrant of the school) so imagine my ABSOLUTE JOY when it’s revealed that Nicola and Ben lost their virginities to each other because he wanted to be certain that he was gay, and Eliza is actually his.
Say it with me now: GROAN! Sometimes stereotypes are unavoidable in novels, but when your book is just one cliche after another AFTER ANOTHER, it’s utterly heartbreaking. I’d been enjoying it so much – the writing style was unique, the writing evoked such strong emotions and I really found myself caring about the majority of the characters. It just feels as though all the wonderful character development that occurred because of Eliza (particularly the change in Jonty!) was all for nothing, because the ending completely erased everything that had come before it.
It’s also a huge cliffhanger, because Nicola tells Ben that the baby is his, but we don’t get to see any of the other events occurring because that’s where it ends. How will Jonty react to the fact that he’s not a father? Will Olivia ever forgive Nicola and Ben for concealing something like this from her? It feels like the real story finishes as the novel ends. It really ruined it for me, which was annoying because I was really liking Lisa’s writing style (apart from the endless lists of rhetorical questions, which did my head in).
I’ve seen a couple of comments saying that there’s going to be a sequel, but I can’t find any information anywhere – if you know anything regarding release dates or titles, please let me know! I have a feeling that this book will end up being like ‘The Rain’/’The Storm’ by Virginia Bergin: after reading the second book the first book is much more satisfying, so I ended up bumping up my rating. Depending on how (if!) Lisa follows the characters, this could become a brilliant book… Until then, I’m very disappointed.