Monday, September 26, 2011

Banned Book Author Showcase: Ellen Hopkins

Why I'm Showcasing This Author:

I was going to review Impulse by Ellen Hopkins as my second showcase book this week, but after giving it more thought, I decided that the author should be the subject of this showcase instead.  Although Impulse HAS been challenged/banned, it isn't her only book to have been a target; ALL of her books have been.  In fact, not only have her books been challenged/banned and criticized, but she, personally, has been.  So...  I will be reviewing Impulse in this post, as it relates to my giveaway (a hardcover copy of Perfect, it's companion), but I wanted to shed light on Ellen and the respect and admiration I have for her for not only writing about the tough stuff, but also for the grace and dignity she has shown in facing the critics of both her work and her person.

As I mentioned, Ellen Hopkins deals with the tough stuff; drug addiction, suicide, sexual abuse, teen prostitution. Real issues that real teens struggle with every day.  She doesn't beat around the bush, she doesn't sugar coat anything, and she raises awareness in adolescents about topics that they will likely face whether their parents want to believe they will or not.  Her first book, Crank, along with it's successors, Glass and Fallout, chronicle the struggle her own daughter faced with meth addiction.  Beautifully written in verse, these books delve deep into the horrors faced by not only the addict, but the countless people touched by association with her.  It is an eye opening account, and one that SHOULD be read by all kids before graduating middle school.  Hopkins's daughter wasn't a clichéd inner-city "tough case", exposed to the streets; she was a middle-class teen who, by chance, got involved with something she had no awareness of.  Ellen Hopkins has done parents everywhere a SERVICE by writing these books, and I am utterly appalled that they would want them pulled from shelves.  Yet, this is exactly what has happened in many middle and high school libraries with these books, as well as her others; parents and school officials consider them inappropriate.  I consider them essential!  They will be REQUIRED reading for my children in middle school.

As bad as the book banning is, what I find even more deplorable is the attacks on Ellen Hopkins as a person and writer.  She has suffered serious backlash for tackling issues that should be tackled.  In Oklahoma and Texas, Hopkins was actually banned from speaking to kids about her books and the issues represented, as if she were going to promote these behaviors rather than speak to the dangers of them.  I've read countless articles, reviews, and forum posts from or citing teens who, through Ellen's books, have either come to grips with and turned around their own issues, or not done something they otherwise would have because of the awareness they gained.  Ask any teen who has read her books and they will not tell you that they attempted suicide, became a teen prostitute, or started doing meth because Ellen Hopkins's books made it seem attractive; you will find quite the opposite.  You will find the girl who stopped experimenting with drugs because she read Crank; you will find the boy who sought help instead of killing himself because he read Impulse; you will find the girl who finally found the strength to report the person sexually abusing her because she read Tricks...

To me, Ellen Hopkins is a true literary hero.  She manages to write impressionable books without moralizing them.  She doesn't sound like a preachy parent or teacher, lecturing on the dangers of sex, drugs, and rock & roll, but rather a person in the know who can offer a cautionary tale.  I was no angel in my teen years; far from it actually.  Had meth been around when I was in high school, I would have no doubt been addicted to it.  Fortunately for me, it wasn't.  Sure, I got the lectures on all of the dangers of this, that, and the other from grown-ups, but books were where I got my "real" info- books were what swayed me one way or another; books were the reason I wasn't sexually active in HS, books were the reason I didn't ever drink and drive, if there had been a relevant book about drug abuse (my fundamentalist Christian parents forbade me to read Go Ask Alice and it was not allowed at my HS), I might not have gone down that road....

So- this post is my love letter of sorts to Ellen Hopkins.  I believe she has done more in her "fictional" accounts for the mental health, stability, and overall awareness of her readers than any health class or drug awareness group could ever do.  I thank her for giving me a jumping off point when it comes time to address these sensitive issues with my own children.


Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: January 23rd, 2007

Aspen Springs Psychiatric Hospital is a place for people who have played the ultimate endgame. The suicide attempt survivors portrayed in this novel tell starkly different stories, but these three embattled teens share a desperate need for a second chance. Ellen Hopkins, the author of Glassand Crank, presents another jarring, ultimately uplifting story about young people crawling back from a precipice.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

There aren't really words to do this book justice.  Like all of Ellen Hopkins's books, this is beautifully written in verse.  I'm not necessarily a fan of books written in this format, but I love all of hers because she does it so well.  She is a pro.  I dare anyone to even try to find fault in her writing.  As far as reviewing this book is concerned, this review will not be a traditional one because I can't find the right words.  Here is my attempt...

Tony, Connor, and Vanessa all end up in a facility after trying, unsuccessfully, to off themselves.  As the book progresses we learn about their reasons, their feelings before, during, and after the fact, and ride along through their ups and downs.  I connected in such a painful way with these kids that I hesitate to even call the "characters".  They were too real to me.  I read this book in May and I am getting knots in my stomach and my eyes are welling up as I remember the depths of my feelings toward these kids.  I think they will be with me always.  Their stories changed me as a person.  I give people the benefit of the doubt more; I try to recognize that with all people, you never really know what kind of hurt is lurking under the surface.  I would never want to, even unknowingly, be the final straw for someone because I lacked compassion or understanding that I didn't realize they needed. 

This book also changed me as a parent.  I became more aware of how everything I say to or about my kids effects them, ESPECIALLY the things I don't realize they are hearing.  I think every parent needs to read this.  I would hope that it would make them cherish their children more; make them understand how fragile kids are, even those who appear tough on the outside.  This book does have some graphic and mature content, but it is essential in knowing these teens.  Parents who want to extract these things without reading this book are doing their children, and even more, themselves, a huge disservice.  Everyone should read this book, at the very least, as a lesson on how to be a part of the human race.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★++ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  I'm going to make a blanket grade level recommendation for all of Ellen Hopkins's books, or rather, not make one at all... All kids should read them when they are APPROACHING emotional readiness.  They need to be shocking and appalling to them.  They are graphic.  They are all about tough subject matter.  Her books will include things like bad language, sex, drug abuse, rape, incest, suicide, alcoholism, homosexuality, prostitution, and exploitation.  They should still be books that parents encourage their children to read.  My kids will read them in middle school.  I only hope that in terms of some of these things, middle school is not too late.

**Don't forget to enter my giveaway for the Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop, including a copy of  Perfect, the companion book to Impulse HERE**


  1. Thanks so much, karis. Appreciate your literary love letter!

  2. Wow. I loved this blog! My first child is only 10 months old but issues like these are already in my mind.


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