Collateral by Ellen Hopkins

12651912Fiction — print. Atria Books, 2012. 512 pgs. Library copy.

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, 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.

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