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Ashley, a graduate student at San Diego State University, has spent the last five years of her life in a relationship with Cole, a Marine originally from Wyoming who has been deployed four times to the Middle East. He doesn’t fit into the stereotype Ashley has for military men — aggressive, unable to think for himself, emotionally distant/damaged — but the multiple deployments start to create cracks in their relationship and Ashley begins to rethink their relationship even as she accepts Cole’s proposal.

I associate Hopkins with the grittiness of drug addiction and prostitution so I was excited to find this book on the shelf and discover that not only is she addressing a different subject matter all together, but that she was looking from the point of view of someone impacted by the choices of others. The collateral damage to borrow from the title of this novel.

Once again, the poetic verses of Hopkins’ writing style left me twisted emotionally and stunned with the beauty of their simplicity. The complicated layers of Ashley’s situation coupled with that of her best friend Darin, who is also married to a Marine, had me eying the book when I was supposed to be studying and contemplating the book when I was supposed to be sleeping. And maybe Darin’s story was more interesting, more complicated, but it was easier to slip into Ashley’s point of view given the parallels in our lives (i.e. wondering if graduate school was the right choice).

<spoilers>I hate to spoil a novel in my review, but I feel I cannot accurately address my feelings about this novel without speaking about the ending. Actually, it isn’t so much the ending but rather the plot crutch getting there — Ashley’s relationship with her professor. It starts out with the same kind of magic as her relationship with Cole — touches that crackle with electricity, a mutual love of poetry and the expression of their feelings in such a medium — and yet it feels like she is trading one questionable relationship for another. Her decision to start dating her professor actually seems to regress her judgement, and Hopkins already has her ignoring the warning signs that something is wrong in her current relationship. It does nothing to strengthen her characterization of Ashley nor does it truly seem like an opportunity that should have made her question her relationship with Cole.

If Cole’s jealousy and possessive ownership of Ashley is the way Hopkins needs to shatter their relationship then so be it</spoilers>, but much of the emotional impact of the novel had dissipated by the end for me due to how little Hopkins’ delved into Cole’s voice. He comes across less like a person — although Ashley is quick to claim otherwise — and more like a caricature rather than a person damaged by word. He is a Republican from Wyoming so, of course, he thinks rape can sometimes he okay; he served in a war zone so of course he thinks violence against women and child is alright. I didn’t count the number of times Hopkins’ actually presented Cole’s point of view, but I cannot imagine that it happened more than ten times. He needed more development and didn’t deserve to be treated like a plot crutch. The ending, quite frankly, felt like a cop-out given how little development she put into his character.

Book Mentioned:

  • Hopkins, Ellen. Collateral. New York: Atria Books, 2012. Print. 512 pgs. ISBN: 9781451626377. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Atria Books. Retrieved: September 11, 2013.

The final book in Hopkin’s trilogy switches from Kristina’s point of view to that of her three oldest children — Hunter, Autumn, and Summer. The oldest, Hunter, lives with Kristina’s parents while Autumn lives with her paternal grandfather and Summer moves from foster care to living with her father to back to foster care. Kristina’s youngest two children, David and Donald, live with her and their abusive father, Ron. All of her children have a high risk of addiction so their stories are mostly about the legacy of addiction and broken homes their mother has left them.

I spent most of this book angry at Kristina’s mother, Marie, for adopting her eldest grandchild and leaving the others to the wolves. Those of you familiar with the series will know that the series is a fictionalized version of Hopkins’ own life — Kristina is her daughter Cristal, Hunter is her (grand)son Orion, while Autumn and Summer are her grandchildren Jade and Heaven.

I struggled with this knowledge; I wanted to judge Hopkins as a person for the decisions her fictionalized self makes. Hopkins does state at the end of the novel that the Hunter in her life is thirteen not nineteen like the character in the book so this a more fictional tale than the previous two books. With this in mind, I am trying to shift my anger at Marie’s decision from the author to the character. (There are also probably legal reasons as to why Marie/Hopkins would only be able to adopt one child not explained in the book.)

Even so, I thought this was the absolute perfect ending to the series. To continue following Kristina would, I believe, turn very cyclical; the only change would be the addition of another guy and another baby. I loved how Hopkins shows the devastating effects of addiction for more than just the user, an issue missing from her previous two novels. Hopkins still manages to maintain the emotionally raw and painfully realistic aspects of her previous books despite the shifts in narration. I continue to be impressed.

Book Mentioned:

  • Hopkins, Ellen. Fallout. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010. Print. 665 pgs. ISBN: 9781416950097. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Margaret K. McElderry Books. Retrieved: June 10, 2011.

Usually I enjoy Hopkin’s novels. The poetic prose manages to tackle drug use and other difficult topics in a way that seems but frightening — incredibly frightening – and beautiful at the same time. Her novels make me thankful for the life I lead and aware that one wrong turn could have sent me spiraling out of control  like the characters in her novels. That’s how real her characters are.

However, I just could not get into her latest novel that follows the lives of five teenagers — three girls, two guys; four straight, one gay; some with good families and some with no one at all — as they discover the wrong kind of “I Love You”. The kind of “I Love You” sends you spiraling into the world of prostitution and drug addiction.

Maybe it’s because there were five characters, which made it difficult to follow along as the stories don’t interconnect until near the end of the novel. I felt like I was forcing myself to read some of the characters stories rather than enjoying them, and there wasn’t enough about the characters I was interested in. There are a lot of salacious details in this novel, and very little time is spent talking about the consequences of her characters’ actions, which is very different from her other novels were her characters do face consequences (pregnancy, disease, inability to beat their addiction).

So, no, I did not enjoy reading this one. And I suggest skipping this one in favor of her other novels.

Book Mentioned:

  • Hopkins, Ellen. Tricks. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry, 2009. Print. 627 pgs. ISBN: 9781416950073. Source: PaperBackSwap.
Book Cover © Margaret K. McElderry. Retrieved: October 28, 2010.

burnedPattyn Von Stratten is not like most teen girls. Raised in a religious — yet abusive — family, a simple dream may not be exactly a sin, but it could be the first step toward hell and eternal damnation.

This dream is a first step for Pattyn. But it is to hell or to a better life? For the first time Pattyn starts asking questions. Questions seemingly without answers — about God, a woman’s role, sex, love — mostly love. What is is? Where is it? Will she ever experience it? Is she deserving of it?

It’s with a real boy that Patten gets into real trouble. After Pattyn’s father catches her in a compromising position, events spiral out of control until Pattyn ends up suspended from school and sent to live with an aunt she doesn’t know.

Another powerful book by Ellen Hopkins that will leave you breathless, Burned details one “good girl’s” fall from “God’s graces” to her own personal hell.

Burned is terrible and awful and downright upsetting, but it’s also down right amazing, not only because of the content because of the manner in which it’s written. While I think free verse worked for all of Hopkins’ books, except for Identical, Burned takes it up a notch and has an edge the others lack. Burned reads more like a diary instead of, such as in the case of Impulse, the characters recounting what happened, and you’re completely absorbed in Pattyn’s thoughts before you know it.

“Did you ever

When you were little,
endure your parents’ warnings, then wait
for them to leave the room,
pry loose protective covers
and consider inserting some metal
object into an electrical outlet?

Did you wonder if for once
you might light up the room?

When you were big enough
to cross the street on your own,
did you ever wait for a signal,
hear the frenzied approach
of a fire truck and feel like
stepping out in front of it?

Did you wonder just how far
that rocket ride might take you?

When you were almost grown,
did you ever sit in a bubble bath,
perspiration pooling,
notice a blow dryer plugged
in within easy reach, and think
about dropping it into the water?

Did you wonder if the expected
rush might somehow fail you?

And now, do you ever dangle
your toes over the precipice,
dare the cliff to crumble,
defy the frozen deity to suffer
the sun, thaw feather and bone,
take wing to fly you home?” (pg. 1-2)

The ending is shocking — melodramatic, much? — but I’ve come to expect that Hopkins. But, in the case of Burned, there is no closure. You don’t know if Pattyn did it or not, whether or not she found the closure she needed, and I sincerely hope Hopkins plans to write a sequel to Burned, after all it’s probably my favorite novel by her. Read it. You won’t regret it.

Book Mentioned:

  • Hopkins, Ellen. Burned. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2006. Print. 532 pgs. ISBN: 9781416903543. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Margaret K. McElderry Books. Retrieved: February 25, 2009.

 

impulseThree lives, three different paths to the same destination: Aspen Springs, a psychiatric hospital for those who have attempted the ultimate act — suicide.

Vanessa is beautiful and smart, but her secrets keep her answering the call of the blade. Tony, after suffering a painful childhood, can only find peace through pills. And Conner, outwardly, has the perfect life. But dig a little deeper and find a boy who is in constant battle with his parents, his life, himself.

In one instance each of these young people decided enough was enough. They grabbed the blade, the bottle, the gun — and tried to end it all. Now they have a second chance, and just maybe, with each other’s help, they can find their way to a better life — but only if they’re strong and can fight the demons that brought them here in the first place.

I thought Impulse was very, very good, like right up there with Crank, until the very end. But the more I think about the more flaws I can find, and I hate when that happens. I guess, in a way, there were too many characters and with such a “large” cast of characters, not enough time and attention was devoted to each one. Because of this, the ending felt very rush and undeveloped, and while I know there is no rhyme or reason to suicide, I still felt like it just wasn’t quite justified.

impulse_03impulse_021impulse_031impulse_04

Still, I thought the story was very interesting, very riveting, and it definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. Impulse alternates between three characters’ point of views, but unlike Identical, the three characters are completely distinguishable as you read. The quality of her poetry has also improved compared to her first novel, Crank, and the passion behind the words is extremely evident {something I worried about since she didn’t have first hand experience with the subject matter}.

“I hate this feeling

Like I’m here, but I’m not
Like someone cares,
But they don’t.
Like I belong somewhere
else, anywhere but here,
and escape lies just past
that snowy window,
cool and crisp as the February
air. I consider the streets
beyond, bleak as the bleached
bones of wilderness,
scaffolding of my heart.
Just a stone’s throw away.

But she’s out there,
stalking me, haunting me.
I know she can’t get me
in here. Besides, I’m too
tired to pick myself up
and makes a break fore it.
So I just sit here, brain
throbbing. Tipping.
Tripping on Prozac. (pg. 19)

Every character has a secret that you’re dying to discover and dreading to find out, but as I’m coming to learn, there are no real endings with Hopkins books. And I’d love to have a sequel to this very realistic, very difficult novel.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Hopkins, Ellen. Impulse. New York: New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007. Print. 666 pgs. ISBN: 9781416903567. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Margaret K. McElderry Books. Retrieved: February 24, 2009.
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