Reynolds, Marilyn. Too Soon for Jeff. 223 pages. Tr. $15.05, ISBN: 978-0-329-55627-3
Plot: Jeff Browning has everything going for him. He’s a senior and a star on the school’s debate team. He’s got good grades and is heading for college. He’s got big plans for the future. His plans don’t include his girlfriend of one year, Christy, who is nice but just not the right one for him. Although he knows that it will be difficult (Christy’s a sweet girl), he goes out with her one night, determined to break the news that they are over as a couple. Christy interrupts his speech with the news that she is pregnant. Jeff’s plans did not include this. She was on birth control pills, but she explains that she occasionally forgot to take them.
Christy is determined to keep the baby; Jeff wants her to get an abortion or give it up for adoption, but she’s not having it. Christy’s father is furious and makes life very difficult for Jeff. His parents are disappointed. His life is going off track, but he needs to get it together. The baby is born and Jeff has to learn how to incorporate fatherhood into his life plans.
Critical Evaluation: An easy to read, true-feeling story. The characters are incredibly realistic, probably because Reynolds worked as a teacher and counselor. She gets into Jeff’s head in a way that makes the reader believe him whole-heartedly. He is confused, angry, and determined, but he also needs to learn how to become flexible and responsible, and he needs to learn it quickly. Although the book is a “problem novel,” the characters are fully formed, so that the book never feels like the problem is the center; every plot point pivots on Jeff’s character and his emotional turmoil is so realistic that you feel like you know him well by the end of the story. This book will engage struggling readers with its strong characters and dramatic situations. The writing is clear and the vocabulary is never daunting for even struggling readers. This is one of the best realistic fiction novels for struggling readers or non-native English speakers.
Reader’s Annotation: Jeff is a star debater, a senior with big plans for college and beyond, but what happens when his girlfriend gets pregnant?
Author bio: Marilyn Reynolds was born in a Los Angeles suburb, and she has been a library assistant, teacher, and a writer. Aside from her realistic fiction, including the “Hamilton High” series (which includes Too Soon for Jeff), she has written books about helping reluctant readers.
Reynolds specializes in “problem novels,” with kids facing serious life issues in an often-confusion world. She delves into the often-complicated emotions of her characters, who are quite often making important decisions. Rather than focusing on the problem, she focuses on how the problem impacts everyone around the main character.
Genre: Realistic fiction.
Curriculum Ties: Psychology, Health.
Booktalking Ideas: Read a paragraph or two. The writing and his character will sell the book.
Describe his situation. Ask the audience to speculate on what he should do. What would they do?
Reading Level/Interest Age: 14 +
Challenge Issues: Teen pregnancy.
The central issue in the book is teen pregnancy, but there is nothing in it that would glorify the situation. It is about responsibility. Keep a file of the positive reviews. Know the content of the book very well and be able to describe what the book is really about. Cite positive reviews and that it was adapted to film in an “After-School Special” on television.
Why Included: Struggling readers are very fond of this book. A student first got me to read it and it has been a big hit with other teens at my school.