I can’t believe there are many adults-in-the-making who sail through their teenage years without mishap. After all, there are plenty of hurdles to negotiate; relationships with parents, exams, booze and, of course, sex. Berlie Doherty’s short novel, which I suspect was aimed at young adults, deals with one possible side-effect of teenage sex. Unplanned pregnancy.
De-bunking the myth that ‘you can’t get pregnant the first time‘, Doherty’s exploration of Chris and Helen’s dilemma is not sentimental. When she suspects she may be pregnant, Helen is simply too terrified to confide in anyone at all, not even her mother. A gifted musician, she has the offer of a place at a prestigious music college. To give up her place and become a mother would disappoint and shame her family. In her desperation and isolation, Helen pours out her thoughts in a series of letters addressed to her unborn child, ‘Nobody’.
To achieve balance in the novel, Helen’s letters are interspersed with Chris’ first-person account of their situation. His bewilderment at his girlfriend’s seemingly unprovoked rejection of his affection, is very touching and reminds the reader that Chris and Helen, whilst on the verge of adulthood, still experience quite childlike reactions when under pressure and overwhelmed. Although the novel is set in Sheffield in the 1980s, in many ways, this is a timeless story, which the author tells sensitively. Although having a baby at eighteen is clearly not the end of the world, this little book examines the far-reaching consequences of deciding whether to make a Nobody a Somebody.