Written by: Ellen Hopkins
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books, Sept. 2014
Novel in verse
Themes: bullying, gay teens, faith, religion, forgiveness, hypocrisy, ptsd, suicide, gun management
Reviewed from an ARC. All opinions are my own.
Between the gray of consciousness and the obsidian where dreams ebb and flow, there is a wishbone window. And trapped in its glass, a single silver shard of enlightenment.
Matt(hew) Turner lives in self-imposed faith vacuum and can you blame him? No wonder his girlfriend thinks he’s changed, become unpredictable since his younger brother’s middle grade classmates bullied him into suicide. His parents marriage, built on a faulty foundation, is disintegrating and he’s the last to discover his dad has been sleeping with his old pre-wife girlfriend. Tension escalates as he tries to pin blame on the homophobia and homophobes (including his best friend, his Dad and the god squad) that led to Luke’s death and his own guilt at being at his girlfriend’s the night Luke really needed him. It doesn’t help that his bible-believing girlfriend’s faith in the unquestionable integrity of the word of God (and of her new youth pastor) is having a revival.
He writes a class essay, full of anger and attack, which understandably alarms his teachers and counselors. This essay is trickled with perfect timing to the reader through the story, adding pertinent back story and Matt’s gutsy belief system or ant-belief system.
It takes a horrific event toward the end of the book to catapult Matt into a soul-searching darkness, where his present condition and his disbelief are blown apart.
Why I like this book:
I have read all Ellen Hopkin’s young adult novels, and I have to say this has become my new favorite of her work. There are several reasons I have become a fan of this author over the years. She introduced me to poetic prose/novels in verse and her finesse and word/space playl in this form takes my breath away. She is the most quotable YA author I know. So many lines leap off the page at me. It is also the perfect word vehicle for the gritty content of her novels. Also having written about diversity on my blog a month ago, I have to do a shout-out here for an author who has teens of all sorts in her novels and never shys away from topics that she knows will cause the censorship-devotees to take to their keyboards. I love that one smaller theme in this book is indeed YA book censorship, which of course underlines one of the larger themes of acceptance of the gay lifestyle.
I think not since Kristina in Crank, has Hopkins used a single point of view and I applaud its choice here. The verse allows for more inner dialogue than we would normally get in prose and we are welcomed deeper and deeper into Matt’s psyche and struggles. He is a compelling, believable, sharp and tortured protagonist with the maturity to call bullshit and stand up against the hypocrisy he sees around him (even eventually in his own life).
The novel wrestles with some really dark and intense subject matter, the reality for many teens…death, suicide, bullying, having a gay son/brother/classmate, religious intolerance, atheism, family break-up, alcoholism, prescription meds, ptsd etc. Part of Matt’s strength comes from his coherent and thought-through position on atheism, which I think will be an interesting challenge to many as it is a less common stance among teens. I grieved over Luke’s genuine question about the present, ‘It get’s better’ campaign (which I love), begging to know how to cope with the ‘now’ when it is not yet better. The book also tackles the less overt guilt of bystanders to bullying.
There are so many deep themes in this novel, I feel it warrants a second read soon.
Ellen Hopkins includes a rich cast of characters, which adds a mixture of intensity and vulnerability to the story line. Some I found pretty loath-able, like Matt’s girlfriend, Hayden, and others I was thankful for because they added some support to Matt, like his veteran uncle, and his high school teacher, Mr. Wells. Each character has a set of beliefs/values that are thoroughly credible for that character. The depth of pain a child/teen must feel when their sexuality is outed prematurely and then mocked is one we have to look at in our society and Hopkins packs no punches with the anguish that led to Luke’s suicide or the post-suicide trauma that Matt is going through. Ellen Hopkins tackles gritty issues with a level of literary expertise that I long to master.
Giveaway: I am fortunate to have a second ARC in possession, which I would love to send to one of my North American blog-readers. To be included in the draw, please leave a comment and tell me what the biggest bullying issue for you was in school, or what is right now for your kids, by midnight EST, Sunday October 5th. I will announce the winner on the blog on Monday 6th October.
P.S. Blog-followers, I am sorry to announce that I have had to reintroduce a captcha to the comments as Askimet is no longer filtering all spam.