Two months ago, Benjamin Morrison sat his mother and stepfather down and came out as gay, which it why it comes as a huge surprise when he sits them down again to tell them that he is going to be a father after an experiment with his best friend Maxie at summer camp. What surprises them even more is that he wants to fight to keep the baby and raise them as a single parent. To prove his commitment to being a father, Ben works hard to balance school, robotics club, a new job, and parenting classes, but it proves much harder than he anticipated and his schoolwork and relationships with his friends start to suffer. Despite his passionate reasons for wanting to raise the baby, Ben starts to have doubts with every challenge he faces and every sacrifice he stares down. When an unexpected complication arises, he starts to realize that being a parent means making the hard choices, even if they aren’t the ones you want to make.
I knew from just reading the description of this story that it would break me - and I was right. I sobbed like a baby, so hard in fact that my eight year old daughter walked in and asked if she needed to bring me tissues because “I can see your boogers.” For reasons I’d rather not get into, a lot of this story resonated with me and hit me deeply.
This story is pitched as Juno meets HEARTSTOPPER and, while I can’t speak to the second part (I may be one of the only people right now who hasn’t read or seen it), it definitely gave a lot of the same vibes from Juno. The story is told strictly from Ben’s POV and it definitely is the POV that provides the biggest gut punch when it comes to the emotional aspect of the story. He is determined to do what he believes is right, but he is also a teenager who had grand plans for his future. His complicated relationship with his stepfather (and father figures in general) plays a big part in his motivations and it allows the reader to really understand how much it means to him.
There are a lot of big feelings in this book, not just from Ben, but the supporting cast around him as well. Bailey treats each character with such respect and gives them their own moment to have the big feelings that Ben doesn’t realize that they are having. I’m not sure if it is intentional, but it felt to me like Ben is neurodiverse (or at least coded as such) and that nuance to his character made a big impact on how he interacted with those he loved, which added even more depth to the story.
One of the biggest takeaways from this story is the concept of family and what it means to be a parent. Ben goes on a huge journey that teaches him (and reminds us) that family does not always just mean blood. This story is one that will leave you battling all the emotions as Ben goes through all the ups and downs that come with growing up and with parenthood, especially those that happen prior to birth.
While it may be obvious from reading the description of the story, I’d also like to give some trigger warnings because I feel like they are some pretty big ones. This story contains depictions of teenage pregnancy, pregnancy complications, and bits of homophobia and bigotry.
UNEXPECTING by Jen Bailey hits shelves on August 22, 2023 and you can pick up a copy for yourself here. You might (read: definitely) also want to invest in some tissues, a therapy appointment, and some emotional support ice cream as well. Trust me.
Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher for free and have voluntarily written this review. If you purchase a copy using my Bookshop affiliate link above, not only will I receive a small commission (which will fuel my coffee and tea addiction and help to keep me up all night reading more books to recommend to you), but you will be supporting indie bookstores as well! If you prefer Amazon, visit my Amazon storefront and click on the list titled "2023 Book Recommendations."