Summary: Fourteen years-old and a new mother, Jane is faced with a change in identity as she goes from being the good girl in her family to the girl with a baby. With her Native heritage once people get over the shock of Jane hiding a pregnancy for nine months, most aren’t surprised about it. Raised in a supportive family though even after the death of her mother, Jane shows everyone that being a teen mom isn’t the end of the world. Through determination, perseverance and a couple of mistakes along the way, Jane and her daughter Destiny make their way in the world.
Number of Pages: 203
Age Range: 14-16
Review: Jane’s story begins with the birth of her daughter Destiny. It’s a powerful scene as author Sylvia Olsen depicts a young girl who is understandably frightened by what is happening to her, but is also helped by her family and determined to let her body do what it needs to. Destiny’s birth marks a change in Jane’s life, as she goes from child to mother in an instant, and Destiny’s name is truly prophetic as she is Jane’s destiny.
I love the larger themes of family. If Jane had been on her own or had less involved family members, The Girl with a Baby would be a different story. Instead, Destiny’s birth seems to spur them all on to do better, be better, for Destiny’s sake. Her birth inspires them, and with Native roots Destiny is seen to have great power and will bear the Indian name of her ancestors. No one in her family looks down upon Jane for her circumstances, rather they help support her and care for Destiny. Jane is secure in knowing her family is behind her, as well as generations of ancestors that have come before her.
Against the backdrop of a judgemental society, Jane juggles being a mother and being a teenager trying to get her high school education. She has a great friend and the support of her family which means she is able to pursue her dreams, and works hard to land the lead in the upcoming school play.
What struck me most though was Jane’s friend Dawna. I loved how Olsen gently developed her as the ultimate faithful friend, but also that when she ended up wearing a special suit to go and see Momma Mia with Jane, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Maybe she was gay, maybe she really was transgendered, or maybe she just wasn’t a girl who liked to wear dresses. No matter what the reason, it didn’t matter. Jane didn’t care and neither did her family. And I loved them for their willing acceptance.
I came away from the book feeling like you are who you choose to be. Maybe others will put their own labels on you, but you don’t have to accept them. Although Olsen makes it very clear than not accepting them is much easier with the support and love of friends and family.
“make your own trail
use the stuff you got
the ground under your feet
the air that flies your kite
the people around you
it’s all there
you set your sails, turn your wheel, adjust your rudder, tune your strings
nobody else can do it
wisdom will help you
listen to the wind
slow down at corners
stay awake on long straight stretches
watch out for potholes
step softly like a dancer
with eagle feathers and tine bells and glass beads” – Jane writes a poem using her mother’s words from The Girl with a Baby by Sylvia Olsen, Chapter 5
“Now I finally knew what those words meant. A few of my decisions had set me up for the rest of my life. First, I decided to have sex with Trevor. It didn’t feel like a decision at the time. It felt more like I was on the back of a train and ended up where the front car was headed. It was more that I didn’t make a decision not to have sex with him. And two negatives don’t make a positive. Not when it comes to having sex. So my first non-decision decision forced me to make the next decision, not to have an abortion.” – Jane from The Girl with a Baby by Sylvia Olsen, Chapter 5
“‘Damn them,’ I sighed. ‘Can’t I just be a girl? Bot the girl with a baby? Did they say anything about my audition? Did they like it?’ Why was he surprised? What did I expect? But for a short time during all the excitement around the audition I didn’t feel like just the girl with a baby. I felt normal, almost.” – Jane from The Girl with a Baby by Sylvia Olsen, Chapter 13