by Catherine MacPhail
Published by Bloomsbury
192 pages, 2005
Girl in Trouble
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
This is the latest young adult novel by the prolific Scottish writer Catherine MacPhail. MacPhail won an award for her first novel, Run, Zan, Run, and has won a number of other prizes since then. Roxy's Baby is certainly an interesting piece of suspense for the junior reader, an introduction to the genre, though for those young readers who just want a dramatic tale of a young girl's troubles, it is also fine.
Willful fourteen-year-old Roxy has made life miserable for her loving mother, her decent stepfather and the younger sister who is more mature than Roxy. Her father died badly and Roxy still resents her mother's speedy remarriage and the fact that her sister is well-behaved. She is selfish and rebellious. During one of the wild parties she attends just to annoy her family, she loses her virginity merely to be able to tell her friends she has done it, and finds herself pregnant.
Worried she will be thrown out of home, she anticipates this by running away to London where she hopes for help from a charitable woman she read about in a teen magazine. Instead, she is taken in by the Dyces, an apparently kindly older couple who run what seems to be a charitable home for young mothers-to-be, somewhere in the countryside, but who have much darker motives for their "charity."
Roxy, naive in many ways, is still saved by the very cynicism that had led to her leaving home in the first place. The other girls in the house think their hosts are simply wonderful and come up with various excuses for their strange behavior. But Roxy has some questions to ask. For example, why are the girls not allowed access to newspapers, television or radio? Why have they not been told where the house is located (they arrive in a car, drugged into sleep)? Why are they not even allowed to leave the house's admittedly large gardens -- and what does the mysterious gardener know that he doesn't dare tell Roxy? What happens to the girls who have had their babies after they leave the delivery room through a back door -- and to a couple of them who seem to have had doubts of their own? Why isn't she allowed to be "birth partner" to her roommate, who has become a dear friend during the time they've spent together?
The answer to all these questions is so over-the-top that I would have had trouble believing it if the author hadn't assured her readers in an afterword that the novel was based on something that actually happened, though in Italy, not in England. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending for Roxy and her baby and an appropriately nasty ending for the villainous couple, as we expect in this kind of moral tale.
All the same, I can't honestly say I found the characters especially believable, though the tough young heroine, fighting for her unborn baby, is not bad. On the whole, it's basically a good enough stranger-danger cautionary tale that will probably appeal to girls of about the same age as the heroine. | September 2005
Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.