Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

8664957Fiction — print. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2006. 532 pgs. Library copy.

Pattyn Von Stratten’s abusive father is dead, and Pattyn is on the run disguising her identity and living amongst immigrant communities who also fear the police. Only her sister Jackie knows what happened the night their father died, but Jackie is struggling to find her voice in a home where their mother clings to normalcy by allowing the truth of what happened to Jackie before her father’s death to be covered up by their domineering community leaders.

Smoke is the long anticipated sequel to one of my favorite Hopkins’ books but, unfortunately, turned out to be a major letdown. I found my concern for Pattyn completely obliterated by the introduction of her sister, Jackie, as a major character – I liked Jackie more, I rooted for Jackie more, I was concerned for Jackie more. The rawness of Pattyn’s emotions were not constructed in the way I expected, and the rest of the characters were so wholly one-dimensional – horrifically evil or saviors – that the whole story felt flat. Jackie’s boyfriend, Gavin, was simply a reboot of Ethan, who tried to save Pattyn in the first book. I also thought the original book dealt with a family in the fundamentalist sect of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) so I was surprised to read that the family is, in fact, of the mainstream LDS Church.

I struggled to find those hidden poems within a poem in the text that always added an extra layer of emotional impact and understanding of the characters. It is almost as though Hopkins expected the evil of violence, abuse, sexual assault, and a community cover-up to carry the reader to the end of the novel; her writing in this book was slopping and not the caliber I’ve come to associate with her name. And the addition of a terrorist subplot pulled the book from the believable to the land of soap operas. I should have stuck with what my imagination conjured up after the ambiguous ending of the first book rather than reading the sequel.

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