Thursday, July 10, 2008

This book is Identical to much of what I've read before

Editing to add: Somehow I missed noting what book this review is for! It's for Identical by Ellen Hopkins.

(Hey, I'm blonde. These things happen.)

The plot: Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical twins who, like Elizabeth and Jessica, are as different on the inside as they are on the outside. Their contempt for one another is as strong as their love. Raeanne tells the reader that her sister's personality is more like her mother's, hard and cold, shutting people out emotionally, and it may be these traits that draw their father to Kaeleigh. Raeanne is jealous of the attention Kaeleigh gets from their father, even though she knows full well that her father sexually abuses Kaeleigh. Even though she's the braver of the two twins, she's not brave enough to take a stand against their father. She forgets her sorrows with pot and promiscuity and the occasional Oxycontin stolen from her father's medicine cabinet. Their mother, a politician, is away for most of the time campaigning. Of course, no situation so volatile can last forever. Kaeleigh and Raeanne hit rock bottom, a moment that reveals many family secrets that, while painful, ultimately do them some good.

My thoughts: For me, there's way too much in this book. It's got bulimia, cutting, pot smoking, drinking, sexual abuse, prescription drug abuse, estranged family members, inappropriate relations with teachers, questionably consensual sexual violence (I don't call it BDSM, because the whole point of BDSM is that it is supposed to occur between consenting adults who have safety parameters in place), and one very sneaky, very evil plot twist. I was absolutely exhausted 250 pages into this 565-page book. I also felt like I'd read better from Ellen Hopkins. To me, this book didn't stand out from her other works. I've said before on YALSA-BK that Hopkins, writing wise, reminds me of Britney Spears. Britney Spears is a terrible singer who sings pretty good songs. Hopkins is the mirror image of that, a good writer who writes books I don't really enjoy. There is no one singular plotline to follow here; it's more a series of connected events. Like all of Hopkins's previous works, it's in verse, making it visually appealing.

But don't write it off just yet: Even though this book is not among my favorites of the year, I will say this: Ellen Hopkins knows her audience. She really has a handle on so many teen feelings and she knows what teens want to and have to read about. After hearing her speak at a dinner at ALA, I know she is also a compassionate person with a need to tell these stories, to let teens in rough situations that they are not alone and someone out there does care about them. I know that in junior high, this is exactly the kind of book I'd have gone for. If I were a teen today, all emotions being equal, I'd probably be emailing Hopkins to tell her how much I love her books. Is Identical going to win the Printz? Probably not. But it is an important book, one that a lot of teen readers will really like and one that many libraries should purchase. Perhaps it will even give one or more teens in difficult situations, family or otherwise, the strength to reach out and get help.

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