Review: Hopkins’ Impulse is Hard to Resist

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Hopkins’ books are written in free verse, so though they may be 300 or more pages, the pages aren’t full of paragraphs of text, making them easier to read.

First a preface:
When I suggest that students read a book by Ellen Hopkins, their first reaction is often “No way! That book is huge!” And yes, many of her fiction novels are very thick, topping 300 or even 600 pages. But when I flip through the books and show students that they are written in free verse instead of long paragraphs, they perk up. There may be as few as 20 words on a page. That, they feel they can handle. And while I never want anyone to choose a book because it’s short, I sell Ellen Hopkins’ books this way because too many students would miss out on her great stories if they never cracked one open.

Now on to the review:
Impulse is the story of Tony, Vanessa and Connor, three teenagers who for different, devestating reasons try to end their lives. After their suicide attempts, they are sent to a treatment facility where they are supposed to work through their issues with therapists and family members. As you might imagine, the path to healing is not an easy one. The teens struggle to deal with their troubled past, less-than-ideal present and their uncertain future. The book alternates between the three teens’ voices, revealing in agonizing bits and pieces the heartache, abuse and fear that led them to this point. Despite their different journeys, the teens find a connection with each other that gives them hope that their lives will be better.

Unfortunately not everyone gets a happy ending. The book, like all others written by Hopkins, deals with very sensitive issues such as sexual abuse, mental illness, drug use, and depression. Tony, Vanessa and Connor felt like real people, and I quickly became invested in their stories: their triumphs, missteps and especially their falls. While I know they are made-up characters, I also know that Hopkins has worked with at-risk youth and struggled through her daughter’s heroin abuse (which she writes about in Crank). Meaning, I feel that the author knows what she’s talking about. By reading Impulse, I gained a glimpse into the pressures and dangers that can plague teenagers – even the ones who seem to have everything going for them. These kinds of books also remind me that, whatever I’m dealing with, someone else may have it worse and I need to be sensitive to whatever challenges they may be facing. Those challenges are not always obvious from the outside.

I recommend this book and others by Ellen Hopkins for anyone who likes gritty realistic fiction, especially stories of young people who face and overcome trauma or hardship. Since it’s told in three voices, I sometimes had to flip back a page or two to remind myself which character was doing the talking. But even with that, the book was riveting and hard to put down. You’ll be impressed by how quickly you get through the 600 pages.

Another of Hopkins’ books that I have read is Burned, the story of Pattyn, a teenage girl whose parents’ religious fanaticism leads to physical and emotional abuse. When she begins to rebel against their rigid beliefs, she is banished from the family. Luckily, the aunt she is sent to live with does not share her parents’ values. For the first time in her life, Pattyn has the freedom and confidence to explore her world, discovering her likes and dislikes and falling in love. She sees possibilities beyond the submissive marriage and motherhood that her parents believe in. Her escape is short-lived, however, when she is called to return home; efforts to hold onto the new life she has made end badly.

While this book feels less realistic to me, because religious fanaticism isn’t something I encounter regularly, I still found the story interesting and moving. I rooted for Pattyn, and of course raged over her father’s abusive and demeaning treatment of the women in his life.

Hopkins continued Pattyn’s story in a book called Smoke and wrote a sequel to Impulse, titled Perfect. If they are even half as captivating as the originals, then I expect more nights staying up reading until 2 am.

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