By Author / Illustrator
Walker Books Ltd
Paperback / softback
A bittersweet Northern Irish romance that takes a new look at teen pregnancy, the magic and mess of first relationships, and a young woman's right to choose her own future.
Beneath the New Year's Eve fireworks, shy science-nerd Mel and slacker songwriter Sid get pregnant on their first date. Any sixteen-year-olds would expect trouble - but this is Northern Ireland 2018, where abortion is still illegal. Mel's religious parents insist she must keep the baby, whilst Sid's feminist mum pushes for a termination.
Mel and Sid are determined to do this together, but they soon discover that pregnancy is totally different for boys and girls. When their relationship starts to fall apart under all the pressure, Mel finds herself feeling alone with the impossible dilemma of the Little Bang growing inside her.
Find out more from award-winning author Kelly McCaughrain:
Mel and Sid connect when sparks ignite at New Year with a little bang. But the universe has plans that will change everything. As her entertaining debut novel Flying Tips for Flightless Birds proved, Kelly Mc Caughrain has an ability to write about diversity, teen relationships, first love and friendship with perception and sensitivity.
Little Bang is another triumph. Told in dual first person, it lets the reader see the world through Mel and Sid's eyes as they meet and fall for each other and complications ensue. Cambridge-bound, church-raised Mel is highly intelligent and lives in the world of physics, pondering the concept of time, while carefree school slacker Sid resents his mother and longs to be a musician. He is fascinated by Mel and absorbs her excitement about the universe while she is mesmerised by his looks and attentive behaviour. Star struck by each other, their dreams and reality collide as a New Year dawns with a little bang and difficult choices need to be faced.
McCaughrain tackles a controversial topic with sensitivity and balance. She has a distinctive, humorous Northern Irish voice and her narrative is brave and ground-breaking. Her lively and convincing characters are crafted with care and nuance as she presents every possibility open to Mel and Sid. Mel's parents are hard-line while Sid's tenacious single mother has a different view. Do they let the adults take control of their future or do they forge their own path? Can Sid be responsible? Do they have a future together?
Meticulously researched, the novel is set at the time of the 2018 Irish Abortion Referendum, which impacts strongly on the characters. Thought provoking and eye opening, it deconstructs the abortion debate, exploring the legalities, statistics and arguments behind it. The seriousness of these issues is juxtaposed with Mel's fascinating facts and Sid's heartfelt lyrics. Depictions of Belfast also ensure a strong sense of place in the novel, making it a visual read and an ideal candidate for a film version - complete with soundtrack.
Little Bang is an important book that needs to be read by young people and belongs on library shelves. It deals with messy emotions and takes a thoughtful look at the challenges facing teen relationships in the 21st century. Capturing the spark of first attraction, awkwardness, self-doubt, societal pressure and stress, it explores a range of opinions whilst exposing the blame/shame game. Above all, it demonstrates the importance of respect for bodily autonomy without being didactic.
McCaughrain includes insightful author notes on the historical context and relevant socio-political questions for reading groups at the back. This novel is suitable for 14+. It has universal cross-over appeal and will engage senior book groups, debating clubs, Ethics classes in Philosophy and PSHE groups. Northern Irish teens looking for relatable reality fiction reads will also appreciate it.
304 pages / Reviewed by Tanja Jennings, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 14+
It's impossible to talk about the exceptional Little Bang without spoilers so let's cut to the headline for those who want to avoid them: you need copies of this book in your school library and all teenagers need (and will need little coaxing!) to read it.
Little Bang is a beautifully written, darkly funny, teen romance/coming-of-age story with a difference. It’s also compulsively readable, relatable and, potentially, life-altering. Shy, science-geek, people-pleasing, University-bound Mel gets together (and pregnant) with school-avoiding bad boy, slacker and songwriter Sid on their first date, under the New Year's Eve fireworks. Little Bang is the unexpected outcome, exploding both their worlds.
It'd be a tricky situation for any 15-year-old to handle, but especially in Northern Ireland in 2018 where abortion is still illegal. The seemingly mismatched couple are forced to navigate a myriad of family reactions and societal pressures spanning all sides of the abortion debate. While Mel's religious, conservative parents are determined she will keep the baby, Sid's fierce, opinionated, feminist mum favours a termination. How can they find a way to hang on to each other, do the right thing and still carve out the very different futures they both want - with a baby?
McCaughrain excels at creating completely real and authentic characters; normal, flawed and capable of huge development, characters you wonder and worry about and live alongside. The cleverly-handled dual narrative brilliantly allows both Mel and Sid to tell their own stories as well as spotlight how different the experience, and pressures, of pregnancy and parenthood inevitably are for girls and boys. Although Sid steps up and becomes the person Mel always knew he was inside, she gradually realises it's her body, future and decision to make. That decision, and the way its consequences must play out, are heartbreaking. The present tense narration reinforces that these issues are still ongoing and the stigma still very real for many.
Little Bang is an extraordinary, informative and empowering book, guaranteed to build empathy: character-led, skilfully and sensitively written, it explores all sides of the abortion debate without ever patronising, preaching or judging. McCaughrain has grounded Little Bang in extensively researched real-life experiences and doesn't shy away from talking about the big issues: pregnancy, gender roles, women's right to choose, and courage as well as religion, belief, double standards, family and independence. As such, it would provide a thought-provoking, discussion-starting class read for RS and PSHE teachers and perfectly complement Philosophy courses, too.
Even the most bookphobic teenager will be drawn in by the premise and by the eye-catching, perfectly-pitched cover design and will undoubtedly empathise with the characters, their dilemmas and decisions. Little Bang would also make the perfect book club read, sparking a host of important conversations and shaping lives. Clever, compassionate and full of heart, this is an important and unforgettable 2024 must-read. Importantly, it is one that teenagers will not hesitate to recommend to each other.
304 pages / Reviewed by Eileen Armstrong, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 14+