Hanging On To Max, By Margaret Bechard

Hanging On To Max

It’s Sam Pettigrew’s senior year of high school. He should be planning for college. Trying out for the football team with his best friend, Andy. Checking out the mall with his girlfriend. Maybe even doing some fishing with his dad. Instead he’s up to his ears in diapers, formula and the challenges of caring for his baby son, Max.

Can Sam keep on juggling the demands of home, school, friends and fatherhood? Sam is starting to question himself and his convictions. Will he now have to make a gut-wrenching decision about Max’s future—and his own?

Hanging On To Max, UK Edition, By Margaret Bechard

Reviews

“When Sam’s girlfriend wants to give their baby up for adoption, the 17-year-old assumes the role of custodial single parent of his son. Hanging On To Max is a breath of fresh air. Bechard has written a poignant winner of a book peopled with human beings all struggling to make their lives work. And she has created in Sam an unforgettable and realistic protagonist full of heart and guts.” —School Library Journal, starred review

“It’s unusual to find a boy in the teen single-parent role, but this story is both realistic and perceptive, and the characters are fully realized.” —Booklist

  • An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
  • An ALA Quick Pick
  • A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
  • A CCBC Choice

Author’s Notes

This story grew from a fairly simple idea: what if a teenage boy had sole custody of his baby son? The idea occurred to me early on—probably in about 1993—but it took me almost ten years to start to shape the story that could grow around it. Periodically I would take the idea out, kind of toss it around in my brain and then think, “Nope. Not yet. Not ready to write that one yet.”

Hanging On To Max, Korean Edition, By Margaret Bechard

I was, actually, working on what became Spacer and Rat, when all of a sudden, I started to get little bursts of insight. Driving to the gym, doing the dishes, pulling weeds in the garden, I would get little bits and pieces in the voice of this boy. Little commentaries on life. Little flashbacks to an earlier childhood. And one day I finally thought, “Oh. I think this may be the kid with the baby.”

When a voice comes like that, loud and clear and even, just a bit, insistent, that’s a gift. And a writer ignores those gifts at her peril. So I put aside the science fiction novel—which, frankly, wasn’t really going anywhere anyway—and I started to following that voice. I started trying to make time to really listen. I started trying to capture it.

The process of writing this story was really a process of finding out about Sam, who he was. And who he wasn’t. I thought I was writing the story of a teenaged boy who wanted to do the best thing for his baby son. And I thought that meant keeping his baby son. I thought the story would end with Sam and Max walking—or strolling—off into the sunset together. But . . .the more I got to know Sam, the more I realized that that would not be a satisfactory ending for his story.

Hanging On To Max, French Edition, By Margaret Bechard

Learning about the character also has to be balanced against learning about the needs of the story. In the beginning, I thought that Sam was living with his mother and his father. I was attracted, actually, by the idea of showing that even kids from two-parent families make mistakes and get pregnant. But one day, I thought, “Hmm. If Sam’s mother is not there—if, say, she is dead—that would make things much harder for Sam. He would have to struggle against even greater odds.” And right away, I knew that that would be a better decision for the story. The story needed that added conflict. So my vision of Sam changed. He was now a teenaged boy caring for his baby son AND grieving the loss of his mother.

Hanging On To Max, By Margaret Bechard

There is always a kind of “woo-woo” side to writing, the feeling that the character is a real person, who already exists, somehow out there somewhere; and if I can just get to know him, if I can just see him clearly, then I will be able to tell his story. But, on the other hand, there is a very practical, logical side to writing. I am always aware that I want the story to be interesting, engaging, entertaining; I want the story to make sense emotionally and logically. So the character becomes something I build both intuitively and analytically. It often takes a certain amount of compromise, and I have to be willing to listen to both my head and my heart simultaneously.