Sunday, 23 October 2011

Nobody's Child - Austin Boyd


Faced with numerous mortgage payments and medical bills, Laura Ann has to decide whether to risk losing the family farm or sell the one commodity in her means – her eggs. Sharing her secret with no one for fear of shame, Laura Ann makes several trips to harvest her eggs so that she can keep her daddy’s farm within their immediate family and stop it from falling into the hands of her manipulative and abusive uncle. But when a woman turns up on her doorstep claiming that she’s carrying Laura Anna’s child, Laura Ann is forced to face the full implications of her actions. How long can she keep her secret?

Just to set the scene here, I’m not your typical American reader. To begin with, I’m actually British, and what drew me to this book was the concept of harvesting eggs in exchange for money. In Britain there is absolutely no financial benefit to donating eggs, sperm or even blood; “donors” truly are making donations. So I started this book with a degree of ignorance towards this world in which reproductive organs can be used to produce money. This may mean that I was more shocked and surprised by the situations novel than your typical American reader, who will be more aware of these events than I am. But I’m sure that even those who are familiar with this system will be struck by this book and made to consider the consequences of the decisions that young women such as Laura Ann find themselves making.

Initially the story was very slow moving, and I actually put it down and read something else for a few days as a lot of the early chapters were spent developing Laura Ann’s character and introducing the members of her family. Personally, I felt that the plot didn’t really start until a good third of the way into the book. A lot was alluded to about Laura Ann’s financial problems and how she’d managed to pay for the mortgage and her dad’s healthcare bills. Yet despite all of the build up to the main plot and introduction of the main characters, I still felt like I didn’t really know the characters when the plot did get rolling. Laura Ann was fairly well developed, and her boyfriend, Ian, was a believable enough character, if lacking some substance. But I had this niggling feeling in the back of my mind as I read the book, as if I should be connecting with all the characters on a deeper level and had missed something essential. In a way it was almost as if I’d dropped into the middle of the series and had missed getting to know Laura Ann’s family members and neighbours. Even Laura Ann felt a bit distant, and I’m hesitant to suggest that this is because the author is male and she just didn’t come across as a hundred-percent realistic to the female reader.

Fortunately, the story really picked up around the halfway mark and I started to take an interest in the characters. The pacing in this book is rather bizarre, with the incredibly slow start, then a jump as the plot gets started, followed by a giant leap in the last eighth of the book in which everything seems to suddenly speed up and there’s a rush to the climax. The book definitely got a lot more interesting once Sophia arrived with the news that she was carrying Laura Ann’s child. Sophia was a fascinating character, maybe one of the most realistic out of all the characters in the book. There was still a slight feeling of detachment, which may be because the author didn’t want readers to get so attached to someone who wouldn’t be around for the whole book. To readers who have actually read the synopsis of this book, which will hopefully be most, the outcome of Sophia’s visit is quite easy to predict and hangs ominously in the background. But even this didn’t prevent the conclusion from being heartbreaking, particularly as Sophia was the character I’d become most attached to.

I’m impressed with the way that the author introduced the topic of harvesting eggs in exchange for money without verging on being “preachy” or pushing his own personal views on the readers. The court case at the end of the book enabled various opinions on this topic to be tossed around, allowing the reader to make their own decision on this ethical dilemma. Such sensitive issues can be tricky to discuss, even in the Christian community, and I do commend Austin for writing a novel which presented all of the facts without overtly presenting the “right” and “wrong” stances on this issue. That said, there was one moment at the end of the court case where the judge made a sweeping comment about whether or not children are viewed as a blessing or simply a commodity. While this statement was entirely valid and one that I myself have mused on in the past, the way in which this question was presented to the reader felt a little forced, as if the author wished to sum up the debate that had been going on throughout the book.

While Nobody’s Child isn’t one of the most gripping novels I’ve read this year, it enlightened me to many of the facts about the darker side to fertility treatment and the women who find themselves offering their reproductive organs in return for cash. IVF has long been a tricky issue in the Christian community, but Austin Boyd refrains from choosing one side in this debate, instead presenting readers with a realistic situation through the character of Laura Ann. I would recommend this to fiction readers who want to know more about the ethical implications behind IVF and harvesting eggs, but aren’t quite ready to go wading through journals and textbooks to uncover the details.

Review title provided by Zondervan.

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