Don't Think Twice

Ruth Pennebaker. Don't Think Twice. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1996.

imageDB.cgi.jpg Nobody ever would have thought it possible; she never would have thought herself capable. No one ever told her about sex, no one ever told her she could become pregnant.Yet here she is, seventeen years old, a junior in high school, a straight A student with a bright and successful future ahead of her, and she's pregnant. How could this possibly happen to her? What can she do?

The year is 1967 and Anne's family has sent her to a home for unwed mothers where she will stay for the remainder of her pregnancy. In the eyes of her family, Anne's "mistake" is just a pit-stop in an attempt to "get on with her life." It never happened, the child never existed, and once she gives birth, life will go right back to normal. Nobody seems able to admit that their "perfect" child, carrying all their hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow, could make such a horrible mistake; they don't want to believe that their little girl has become a statistic. Most of all, they don't want to believe that they had anything to do with it. Rachel bitterly expresses this betrayal when she says of her own parents, "They made a big point of letting me know how liberal they were about things like sex. And then they acted like it was the end of the world when I told them I was pregnant and I wanted to keep the baby. My father said that maybe he should get one of his friends to give me psychological evaluation, since I seemed crazy. It made me realize that my parents were creeps and hypocrites, just like everyone else's parents" (210). Rachel's disgust and feelings of betrayal mirror the feelings of the other girls living with her in the home for unwed mothers. None of the girls were taught about sex; none of the girls were warned of the consequences; and none of the girls were ever offered contraception. Without these tools or any form of sex education, they became pregnant and were soon separated from society and subsequently shamed.

As the brunt of social shame is inflicted on these young mothers, Rachel expresses her discontent of being labeled "dirty and unworthy" while the boys, who were equally responsible for these pregnancies, reap no consequences or suffering at all. Anne says later, while thinking about this issue, "I think of Jake. He's in school now, carefree and perfectly happy. He hasn't suffered at all. He doesn't even know about the baby-- I made certain of that. His life has gone on, uninterrupted, and mine has stopped. Of course it's unfair and hateful and disgusting. I've always known that. I don't need Rachel to tell me" (159). Seemingly shut off from the rest of society, these unwed mothers are being "punished" for their behavior, while the fathers are living their lives as if nothing has happened. Such a double standard is what put these girls in this home to begin with, and is ultimately what will shape and define the rest of their lives. It is here, at this home for unwed mothers, with other girls facing the same situation, amid the hurt, betrayal, denial, and unwanted pregnancies of other girls like herself, that Anne begins to work through the debris left behind as a result of her pregnancy and the questions no one was brave enough to answer. What Anne fails to realize, however, is that what is being born is not just a baby, but a new awareness of herself.

Recommendations for Teachers

As an educator, Don't Think Twice, raises many issues and discussion topics that should be handled delicately and with a caution, awareness, and a healthy concern. Discussed within Pennebaker's YA novel are the the topics of unwed mothers, unwanted pregnancies, social discrimination and rejection, a woman's choice, sex education, sexually active teens, sexual harassment, adoption, abortion, emotional trauma, rape, the consequences of being sexually active, safe sex, family rejection, and many, many more. Although some topics are seemingly commonplace in today's society, topics such as rape, social discrimination, sexual harassment, and power over women's reproductive rights, could strike close to home for some students. Additionally, some topics could cause students to become uncomfortable with discussion, especially if some students are sexually active or have had experiences similar to those described in the novel and some of their peers have experienced nothing remotely related to the discussion. It is recommended that educators approach all discussions in an unbiased and nonjudgmental manner. It is important to not only encourage students to do likewise, but also allow for students to share personal experiences. It is also very likely that the topic of sex [depending on the age and maturity of the class] could create an awkward atmosphere in the classroom. On a lighter note, encourage students to take note of Pennebaker's humor, which is used frequently throughout her novel. Also be aware that this book brings to light many pertinent issues regarding parent culpability. These should not be ignored and teachers should discuss with their students what role parents play in these types of situations. Which of course brings up the issue on how to deal with parents. Many parents could be offended with the notion that they had something to do with a mistake their child made. After all many parents feel they cannot be with their kids all of the time. And while this is true the parents still need to take on some responsibility. There is a need for communication between parents and their teen-age children. If this book were to be taught in a classroom then it could be used as an opportunity for parents to discuss sex with their children. And while the book focus's on the pregnant girls they should also discuss the role of the fathers. After all they played a part in the conception of the child. There should be a discussion on the role of the boys who helped to get these girls pregnant. And if they should take any responsability for their actions. This book was written about a pregnant teenager in 1967. The students could compare and contrast how society treats pregnant teens. And if the fathers role has changed at all.

About Ruth Pennebaker


While Ruth Pennebaker is a renowned young-adult author who has written three novels all of which have won her much praise (Don't Think Twice, Conditions of Love, and Both Sides Now), it seems that very little is really known about her life. It is known that Ruth Pennebaker was born in Ponca City, OK and is now married; her and her husband currently live in Austin, TX. She earned a bachelor's degree from Eckerd College in English and then went on to the University of Texas School of Law. In addition to writing young-adult novels, Pennebaker also writes articles for The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News, Parents, Redbook, McCall's, and Cooking Lights. While she is a recovering alcoholic, Pennebaker has kept a positive attitude through her ability to see the humor in how alcoholism has effected her life as well as the lives of her family. Ruth says it like this, "Not only was I not an alcoholic, I realized. The truth is, I hadn’t drunk anything for years. It’s got to be some kind of metaphor for something about family life. You’re never the same after you have kids. You’re just deluded enough to think you are."

Unfortunately, more background information was unable to be found regarding this outstanding young-adult author. Her life, on many levels, still remains a mystery.

Stork Realities: What No One Ever Tells You About Pregnancy (Libby Wilson, co-author)

(Harper & Row, 1985)
Stork Realities is a pregnancy book with attitude, humor and oddball facts about the gestation period of the human female. Tragically, it is out of print.

Parents: A Toddler's Guide

(Clarkson-Potter, 1986)
Parents is a view of the world of grown-ups, as narrated by a wiseacre two-year-old who goes eyeball-to-kneecap with the well-meaning giants in the house. A humorous classic that is also, tragically, out of print.
These are two of her books which are no longer in print. I wish they were because they sound very interesting. After all adults do not have the same sense of humor that a 2 year old does.

Additional websites
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Multimedia (Video or Audio)

A clip of Bob Dylan's song, Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, the inspiration for Pennebaker's title.

Podcast: Don't Think Twice

Additional Resources:
Unwed Mothers' Homes: This site has a list of unwed mothers' homes and messages from adopted children and women who gave their children up to be adopted. It is an interesting look at the proliferation of these homes and the time period in which they were utilized.
Baby Scoop Era: A website by an organization founded in 2007. This looks at the time period known as the baby scoop era and the psychological affects of unwed mothers' homes.
PBS Documentary: This website offers a transcript (PDF format) of a primary source story. A woman tries to find her birth parents and learn more about the unwed mothers' home she was adopted from. It also offers a short 8 minute video of the episode.
And Sin No More: From Google books, short excerpt from a book by Marian J. Morton about unwed mothers' homes and social policy.
Teen Sexuality: A documentary style website with case studies regarding the current culture of teen sexuality. A good glimpse into teen views on sex and love.
Teen Pregnancy and Socioeconomic Status: From Stanford University, a revealing look into the issue of socioeconomic status and teen pregnancy.
Sex Education: Information about sex education and the need for comprehensive sex education in high schools.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Information on fetal alcohol syndrome. This is especially important when dealing with the parts in the book where the characters are drinking and smoking while pregnant. Keep in mind though, that at this time these teens did not know that drinking in excess could effect fetus development.
Smoking During Pregnancy: Another website from the CDC stating the effects of smoking while pregnant. Includes links to important research documents with more information.
Teen Pregnancy and Suicide: A link to a printable version of an article regarding teen pregnancy and the increased risk of suicide due to these stresses.
Statistical Data: Statistical data regarding teen pregnancy and abortion rates in the U.S. and Canada.
Contraception: Information targeted at teens regarding the types of contraception available and what processes they will have to go through to get contraception.
Pro-Choice America: The national pro-choice website. Includes not only information on abortion, but also on women's rights and birth control.
Right to Life of Michigan: The other side of the abortion debate this website covers issues regarding abortion and fetus rights.

Natalie Kotal, Annelise Gray, Wendy Wagenmaker I am the Cheese, Thirsty