Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ellen Hopkins

I am not one of those people that gets poetry; the abstract tends to fly over my head and I'm left wondering what it is I just read, and more importantly what it meant. Because of this, it is safe to say that in the past I avoided all novels in verse. Until I stumbled on my first novel by Ellen Hopkins. It was Identical and it stood out on my desk in the pile of new books that I needed to review and then shelve. Instead of shelving that one, I checked it out. While reading those 565 pages, I felt scared, sad, and hopeful. Above all else though, I knew that Hopkins' work needed to be put on display so that anyone who was experiencing trauma like Kaeleigh and Raeanne were going through would have some sort of comfort and voice. After returning Identical I systematically plowed my way through all of her YA books. 

I met Ellen Hopkins for the second time in New Orleans. Last year, at Annual in DC, I saw her walking through the conference center and literally SCREAMED her name. Then I ran over and made my friend Nick take a photo. I was breathless and so excited to meet her. This year I tried to tone it down a notch but as you can see I am still very excited:

And I'm not the only super fan:

Joanna got her favorite Ellen Hopkins book signed too
In addition to meeting Ellen again, I got copies of her latest books. I started Perfect while waiting for my plane and finished it when I got home, I just couldn't put it down. Perfect is about four teenagers battling inner demons and outside pressures as they try to be "perfect". And what is great about this book, is perfect looks different for each of them.

Cara's parents have set sky-high expectations for her and her twin brother Conner. Conner has been driven towards suicide (Impulse), but Cara tries to figure out if she can maintain this mold as a new and unexpected love enters her life. Kendra, Conner's ex, is a beauty pageant queen who is trying to win Miss Teen Nevada and a big-time modeling contract. Her distorted self image pushes her anorexia over the edge but she is blind to the damage. Cara's boyfriend Sean is desperate to become the next Mark McGwire, even taking the same steroid path McGwire did, in order to get to Stanford on a baseball scholarship. Andre's parents are the perfect black power couple, pushing their son to make money in order to be the success they are. But instead of wanting to carry on in their footsteps, he wants to dance. The book has no happy ending, which I think makes it that much more powerful. Readers can hope the characters will make this decision or that, but nothing is set. I think by leaving the ending open, Hopkins reinforces the idea that is central in so many of her only takes one or two decisions to totally disrupt a path. And those decisions can be good ones, or terrible ones made with the best intentions (Tricks).

Perfect is a book book I wish I would have have had as a sophomore in high school, struggling with ideas of failure/success and feelings of not being good enough. It is another must-read that I will be pushing, and I hope it gets on some required reading lists for high school freshman.