Unexpecting by Jen Bailey

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Wednesday Books

Date of publication: August 22nd, 2023

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT, Fiction, Queer, Romance, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary Romance, High School, Young Adult Romance

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Juno meets Heartstopper in this poignant and emotional story about found family, what it means to be a parent, and falling in love.

Benjamin Morrison is about to start junior year of high school and while his family is challenging, he is pretty content with his life, with his two best friends, and being a part of the robotics club. Until an experiment at science camp has completely unexpected consequences.

He is going to be a father. Something his mother was not expecting after he came out as gay and she certainly wasn’t expecting that he would want to raise the baby as a single father. But together they come up with a plan to prepare Ben for fatherhood and fight for his rights.

The weight of Ben’s decision presses down on him. He’s always tired, his grades fall, and tension rises between his mom and stepfather. He’s letting down his friends in the robotics club whose future hinges on his expertise. If it wasn’t for his renewed friendship (and maybe more) with a boy from his past, he wouldn’t be able to face the daily ridicule at school or the crumbling relationship with his best friends.

With every new challenge, every new sacrifice he has to make, Ben questions his choice. He’s lived with a void in his heart where a father’s presence should have been, and the fear of putting his own child through that keeps him clinging to his decision. When the baby might be in danger, Ben’s faced with a heart wrenching realization: sometimes being a parent means making the hard choices even if they are the choices you don’t want to make…

First Line:

“Mom, there’s something I need to tell you.”

Unexpecting by Jen Bailey

Having come out to his mother a couple of months previously, Benjamin never imagined that he would be sitting her down and telling her that he got someone pregnant. Even more so, he never thought he would tell her that the girl was his best friend, Maxie, or that he slept with Maxie to ensure he was gay while away at science camp. Having grown up with a revolving door of stepfathers, Benjamin wants to ensure that his child never experiences that, so he decides to raise the baby as a single father. But Benjamin doesn’t expect how hard it is and the sacrifices he will have to make. As complications arise with the pregnancy, school, and friendships, Benjamin realizes that something has to give. Will Benjamin do the right thing?

When I read the blurb for Unexpecting, it got my attention. The more I thought about it, the more interested I got. Since Unexpecting was a Read Now from St. Martin’s Press, I downloaded it. I am glad that I read it because it was a good book. It’s not great because of things I will review, but it’s good.

Unexpecting is a medium to fast-paced book set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The pacing went well with the storyline. The author sped up or slowed down the speed when it needed it. I also did not have to go back and reread chapters/previous paragraphs, which was a big thing for me.

The main storyline in Unexpecting centers around Benjamin, the pregnancy, and its fallout. The storyline was well-written, and the characters were true to life. But, and I stress, there were some things that I wished were in it. As weird as this sounds, I wish it was a dual POV. I would have loved to have read Maxie’s perspective on the pregnancy and Ben’s demands. I also wish that the author was more explicit about Ben being neurodivergent. As the parent of two neurodivergent teenagers, I picked up on Ben’s mannerisms right from the beginning. But other people might not, which could lead to readers needing clarification about his actions and reactions.

The storyline with Ben, Maxie, and the pregnancy brought back some memories. Why? My best friend got pregnant at 16 and had the baby at 17. The ridicule and name-calling hinted at in the book were in full force with her. So, I sympathized with Maxie. I also sympathized with Ben. How the parents reacted were opposite ends of the spectrum (Maxie’s parents were extreme, and Ben’s wasn’t), but again, it was realistic. How this storyline ended up was very real, as well.

Ben was a hot mess for almost the whole book. As I stated above, he was neurodivergent (he shares many similarities with my high-functioning son). That was one of the reasons he was so focused on raising the baby alone and why he didn’t even think to ask how Maxie felt about it until halfway through the book. I did like how I could see the change in his thinking as the pregnancy progressed. I figured out what would happen during a specific scene in Grecos. But it was still heartwarming to read that scene and the ending scene.

I felt awful for Maxie. No one asked what she wanted. Instead, her parents shamed and punished her, and then she was forced to watch Ben battle her parents. I can’t even begin to understand the stress she was under. I do think it factored into her pre-eclampsia. I got teary-eyed at the end when she and Ben had that conversation.

The romance angle of the book was very subtle. While I say it coming from a mile away, I am glad the author didn’t go overboard. Instead, she made Gio more of a support person for Ben than a would-be boyfriend. I enjoyed that and watching their relationship morph into something more.

I want to complain about Ben’s mother and Maxie’s parents briefly. I firmly believe that Ben’s mother was cheating on her husband with her ex-husband, but she stopped when confronted. I also find it problematic that she didn’t know Ben’s emotional issues because of having no father. As a guidance counselor, she is trained for that. As for Maxie’s parents, they had every right to be angry with Ben. But I wouldn’t say I liked how they treated Maxie. All I could think of when reading how they treated her was the scene in GoT where Ceresi walked through the streets of Kings Landing with the nun in front of her yelling, “Shame, Shame.” It is a little extreme, but still. Also, I didn’t particularly appreciate how they did their best to keep Ben out of the loop. From her father having words with a sixteen-year-old (real man there) to her mother just being nasty to him, it was sad.

The end of Unexpecting was bittersweet. I liked that Ben did the right thing but wondered what could have happened.

I would recommend Unexpecting to anyone over 16. There are no sexual situations, mild violence, or language. There is bigotry and implied slut shaming at various points in the book.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Wednesday Books, NetGalley, and Jen Bailey for allowing me to read and review Unexpecting. All opinions stated in this book are mine.

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