At first glance this book is about mothers and daughters and what happens when a daughter does something the mother might not like. How do those unpopular decisions reflect on the mom, and is it fair to hold the mother responsible? But this book also goes deeper than that to address issues such as friendship, motherhood, pact behavior, teen pregnancy, mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, marriage, standing up for yourself, and loyalty.
Three high school seniors, Lily, Mary Kate, and Jessica, decide to get pregnant after working one summer as mothers' helpers. They have different reasons for wanting babies--such as to create family or to have something that's entirely her own--but mostly they dream that their children (daughters hopefully) will have the same life-long bond that their mothers have and that they themselves have. They never plan on what happens when they announce their pregnancies and their intentions to carry to term.
The girls' decision is the central focus of the book, but this is really Susan's story. She is Lily's mother and the high school principal. She had also been an unwed teen mom so she understands some of what Lily is going through, but she has a hard time comprehending why Lily would want a baby so much that she would plan to get pregnant...and why her friends would also make that same plan. Susan questions her mothering skills, knowing she did the best she could yet at the same time wondering whether it was enough. Her relationship with her own mother is distant and strained so she doesn't have that tie to rely on, but she does have her three best friends: Kate, Sunny, and Pam. Two of them are also dealing with pregnant daughters, so they become Susan's support system. As if dealing with an expectant teen isn't enough, Susan constantly has to defend her job and the decisions she makes as principal, and her battle against the school board and against certain town citizens is uphill.
We also get some glimpses into the lives of the other girls and their families. There is denial, threats to send the girls away, worry over the health of their babies, and the need to deal with classmates and family members, not to mention the fathers of their babies. Lily begins to realize that her decision to become a mom affects not only her but also her mother, the boy involved, and so many other people that she never considered. As she watches her mom face the superintendent and the school board and respond to parent concerns, she says things like "I never imagined." She is an incredibly knowledgeable girl in the facts of pregnancy, knowing how long her fetus is at each week, but she is naive about the permanent changes a baby will bring. Bad news forces Lily and Susan, and by extension the other girls and their moms, to really decide how they will approach the impending births.
This is a powerful book. We watch as Susan faces one challenge after another, questioning and doubting herself at times but also needing to be strong for her daughter. She knows she is a good principal, but she isn't quite as confident in her parenting skills. Echoes of other authors struck me as I read this book. Names like Jodi Picoult and Anita Shreve popped into my mind. Delinsky doesn't lay out the same ethical dilemmas as Picoult or have the same unique writing style as Shreve, but her family dynamics and her characters' relationships are drawn in similar ways. Readers of authors such as Patricia Gaffney, Luanne Rice, and Kristin Hannah will enjoy this one.