Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

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.

Books Mentioned:

  • Hopkins, Ellen. Burned. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2006. Print. 532 pgs. ISBN: 9781416903543. Source: Library.
  • Hopkins, Ellen. Smoke. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013. Print. 560 pgs. ISBN: 9781416983286. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Margaret K. McElderry Books. Retrieved: August 3, 2014.

Collateral by Ellen Hopkins

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.

Fallout by Ellen Hopkins

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.

Tricks by Ellen Hopkins

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.

Burned by Ellen Hopkins

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.