Book Reviews

Knit, Purl, a Baby and a Girl by Hettie Bell

CW/TW: abortion consideration and discussion, toxic family, discussion of miscarriage, pre-eclampsia

Tara: I mentioned this book in a recent Whatcha Reading post with the comment “I’m only a third of the way through, but if you like the idea of an f/f romance with fat rep, knitting, friends with benefits, and a truly nonjudgemental dive into abortion vs opting to complete a pregnancy, this is the book for you!” And guess what?! Carrie was into it, so we’re reviewing this together!

CarrieS: I don’t knit, but I spend so much time with friends and family who knit (and I benefit so very much from their art!) that I think of myself as knitting adjacent. I loved the concept of a f/f romance with body positivity, romance, and knitting. Thanks for inviting me to the party, Tara!

Tara: After a drunken, late-night booty call with her stoner ex-boyfriend, Poppy Adams is pregnant. She knows her situation is less than ideal, since she’s single and regularly reminded that she’s the family screw-up. But after seriously considering the materials Planned Parenthood gave her, she also knows that she wants to continue with the pregnancy and raise the baby.

Poppy also knows she’ll need a support system for her soon-to-be single mom life, and her judgy mom and sister aren’t going to cut it. So, Poppy joins a stitch n’ bitch group, where she can learn to knit and make friends with other moms and grandmas.

She doesn’t anticipate meeting the hunky butch Rhiannon, or their instant attraction. They know a relationship is a terrible idea, but agree there’s no harm in a little friends-with-benefits situation. Can they actually stick with that, especially as their feelings keep growing?

Carrie, I don’t know about you, but the first thing that got me excited about this book is its cover! Whoa, is that woman super cute and I love that she’s not tiny, just like Poppy. Because Knit, Purl is told entirely from Poppy’s perspective, I’m so glad she’s on the cover represented by a model who matches how she’s described in the book.

Carrie: So much yes. I felt like the cover reflected the tone of the book, which pulled me out of a serious reading slump and generally grumpy mood. it’s fun, it’s happy, and Poppy looks like Poppy! This book deals with many serious subjects, but manages to keep the pace fast moving and the tone relatively light, hopeful, and full of love of many kinds. I loved everything about this book EXCEPT for the romance, more on that later. As a story about Poppy (it’s entirely narrated by Poppy) it was all SQUEE and as a romance it started off well and then crashed horribly.

Tara: Yes, it did the same for me! I haven’t been clicking with romances lately and this one totally sucked me and held my attention when I didn’t think it could be done.

It’s hard for me to choose my favourite element, because there’s so much I enjoyed about it. That said, I was most impressed by the way Poppy goes about deciding what to do with her pregnancy.

What she was initially thinking and what Poppy experiences.

Poppy goes into Planned Parenthood with the intention to have an abortion. After being escorted through the gauntlet of protestors, she’s counselled nonjudgmentally, with all of the options being presented to her: abortion, adoption, and raising the baby.

Nurse Janine is one of the MVPs of the story for me, due to this bit:

“But what do I do?” I ask. My voice is high, needy. I feel like a little girl.

“Whatever you feel is best, Poppy.”

“That’s kind of a bullshit copout answer, Janine.” My body tries to laugh and sob at the same time, and it comes out as a hiccup.

Nurse Janine laughs with me. “Sorry. It’s kind of my job to stay neutral in these kinds of questions.”

“And here I was thinking I’d come in here and you’d have a banner and balloons that say ‘abortion is the best, you’ll love it’.”

“Ummm, no. The best I can do is, ‘For some people, abortion is the best option.’ Which isn’t what you’re looking for me to say to you right now, is it?”

I was especially happy that every option is presented as entirely valid, whether it’s the one Poppy chooses (keeping her baby) or not. This story is truly pro-choice in every way, no matter what that choice is.

Carrie: I agree, and I also think it’s important that not only is Poppy’s choice treated as completely valid but so is…

Show Spoiler

…the reveal, which is treated both supportively and matter-of-factly, that Rhiannon had an abortion earlier in her life and never regretted it.

Tara: I was also surprised sometimes by how hilarious Poppy is, like when she sees her embryo during an early ultrasound and says it looks kind of like a baby hamster. I cannot with that. Or when she’s scrolling through Netflix and says this about a K-Drama she finds:

Okay, I also just want to see this thing or myself. A love triangle with twins? And one of them is evil?

I may be pregnant, but I’m not dead.

The humour was especially effective for me because it balanced some of the more serious elements, like Poppy’s lack of self confidence.

To be fair to Poppy, it’s entirely understandable why she doesn’t believe in herself. We see first hand the way her mom and sister infantilize her and take every opportunity to tell her how little faith they have in her ability to carry through with anything, including learning how to knit. Her arc revolves around understanding how capable she really is and I was heartened to see how much stronger a person Poppy is by the time she has her baby.

Carrie: It was so hard to read all the interactions with Poppy’s mother in particular, who is constantly telling Poppy that Poppy is incapable of responsibility or independence. This demeaning attitude permeates every interaction that she has with Poppy.

This is contrasted with the knitting group, which becomes Poppy’s found family and support group. In the knitting group, Poppy is shaken to discover that no one makes fun of her for making mistakes. No one objects to a knitter changing her mind mid-project (there’s a joke that anytime a pattern calls to a pair of things, like a pair of socks or mittens, only one will get finished no matter who is making them). While the knitters argue about a lot of things, it’s a kind of friendly banter, as opposed to the viciously undercutting arguments in Poppy’s family. As found family, the knitters model healthy disagreement and unconditional love, matched with healthy boundaries, accountability, and practical assistance.

When it comes to Poppy’s relationship with Rhiannon, I found the relationship to be pretty wobbly. I love that Rhiannon is supportive of Poppy’s decision regarding the baby. I love that she is such a great knitting teacher. I love that these two women laugh together, fight fair, and celebrate each other’s bodies. However, Rhiannon just cannot make up her mind about how serious she wants this relationship to be and I’m going to rant about that a little later.

Tara: Something I find a little odd is that the blurb doesn’t mention how Rhiannon and Poppy meet.

Where they actually meet, before running into each other at the stitch n’ bitch.

Rhiannon is Poppy’s clinic escort at Planned Parenthood. Poppy sees the poster for the stitch n’ bitch on a board there.

Carrie: I’m not gonna lie. When I realized that this was the meet-cute, I squee’ed with joy.

Tara: I have one gripe and it’s pretty big: the romance in Knit, Purl left me craving a grovel and resolution to the conflict. This is massive spoiler territory, so be ye warned.

About that grovel I’m missing out on.

Rhiannon runs hot and cold on Poppy because she doesn’t want to co-parent Poppy’s baby. It all comes to a head when Poppy develops preeclampsia and has to go on bed rest.

Despite knowing exactly how awful Poppy’s mom can (AND WILL) be to Poppy, Rhiannon tells Poppy to go move in with her mom for the rest of the pregnancy and then disappears. And this is after Rhiannon experienced the shittiness of Poppy’s mom first-hand at a family party, when her mom told Rhiannon that Poppy’s bisexuality was just a phase.

Whyyyy would she send Poppy to the least psychologically safe person in the world when Poppy is not in a position to care for herself? That is BAD GIRLFRIENDING.

Reading that left me feeling very this:

And yet, when Poppy goes into delivery and tells a mutual friend she wants Rhiannon there, Rhi shows up. No questions asked.

But also?

NO GROVEL. Where is the grovel??!?!? Because after seeing Poppy’s mom treat her like shit for weeks, including gaslighting her, I NEEDED a grovel.

Even worse? We never see them talk anything out, so we don’t see Rhi acknowledge that what she did was terrible. We also don’t see her acknowledge that she’s okay with co-parenting now, when she’d been vehemently against it for the whole rest of the book, nor why her feelings changed. We just go from the hospital to a month later when they’re doing fine and are happy together, celebrating the baby with their stitch n’ bitch family.

While I’m very happy for them, I feel like a crucial part of their relationship arc was held back and I’m still salty about it days later.

CarrieS: I do not think that Poppy’s problems with Rhiannon are over.

Compare Poppy’s response to Rhiannon to Poppy’s response to Stoner Ex. After Stoner Ex misses a single prenatal appointment with no explanation or apology, Poppy kicks him to the curb, and rightfully so.

In contrast, how many free passes does Rhiannon get for making and breaking promises? Too fucking many. Of course, Stoner Ex is a biological parent and Rhiannon and Poppy are in a new relationship, but Rhiannon still has responsibilities to Poppy to be reliable within the boundaries and promises she made and she is not.

Show Spoiler

Poppy and Rhiannon have multiple conversations about what role Rhiannon wants to play and Rhiannon’s behaviors do not match her words. Most frustratingly, she finally tells Poppy that she (Rhiannon) is ready to commit to Poppy and the baby as a package deal, and then she immediately backs out of going to an important prenatal appointment and doesn’t text Poppy for days. This is the point at which I thought they should have permanently broken up — who needs this in their life?

Later on Poppy makes her needs and expectations very clear with regard to a family party at which Poppy wants to support her sister (who is also pregnant). Despite knowing what to expect (horribleness) and knowing what her girlfriend needs (support sis despite horribleness), and despite having agreed to all this, Rhiannon walks out on Poppy at the party, does not visit Poppy in the hospital after the party (don’t worry, Poppy and the baby are fine), pulls an epic ghosting, and reappears just long enough to reinforce all of Poppy’s worst fears about herself. It’s awful.

I, too, remain salty, and we are way past grovel.

Tara: I enjoyed most of Knit, Purl and I’m glad I read it. It’s a feminist-as-fuck, pro-choice, middle finger to the world that I didn’t know I needed. At a time when it’s hard not to feel angry (hello, one year into the quarantimes) it was cathartic to see Poppy learn how to stand on her own feet, determined to make the best life she can for herself and her baby, and see her build a found family with her knitting group.

Did it stick the landing with the relationship and conflict resolution? Not in a way that I personally could find satisfying. I’d still recommend checking it out, but just know going into it that the romance has problems which aren’t resolved on the page. For me, this is a B-.

Carrie: I agree. TBH I was leaning towards a pretty high grade for most of this book, but Rhiannon’s failure to be consistent for Poppy dropped it more to a C for me in the last quarter. I was disappointed in that aspect of what was otherwise a wonderful, feminist, body-positive, choice-positive story.

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