by Ellen Hopkins
YA fiction. 531 pp.
Let me just preface this review by noting that this book makes Criss Cross look like it actually deserved the Newbery. I weep to think of the trees that were sacrificed for this "book."
It all started with a dream. Nothing exceptional, just a typical fantasy about a boy, the kind of dream that most teen girls experience. But Pattyn Von Stratten is not like most teen girls. Raised in a religious--yet abusive--family, a simple dream may not be exactly a sin, but it could be the first step toward hell and damnation.
This dream is a first step for Pattyn. But is it to hell or a better life? For the first time Pattyn starts asking questions. Questions seemingly without answers--about God, a woman's role, sex, love--mostly love. What is it? Where is it? Will she ever experience it? Is she deserving of it?
Now, I picked up this book for a couple reasons. First was that it's a novel in verse, and I generally enjoy novel in verse because the images are language use are phenomenal. I also picked it up because I was interested in seeing how this author approached the issues of love and what not with the religious element.
Well, the novel failed on pretty much every count. For starters, this is a Message Novel. Don't believe me, then turn to the Author's Note at the end where she tells us,
This book is fiction, but much in it is true--in particular, the stories about nuclear issues in Nevada. Those "downwinders" still alive--and their children--suffer health problems directly related to the aboveground nuclear testing that took place at the Nevada Test Site in the middle part of the twentieth century. People really were encouraged to have "blast parties," or otherwise to sit outside to watch the mushroom clouds.
So, if you take the author's note and the poems in the novel about this particular element, you have a grand total of TWO PAGES about the downwinders and the Nevada testing. I'm a bit perplexed as to how this will keep this information from "[dying] along with the remaining downwinders."
The second message of this Message Novel is that organized religion produces mean, bad, hypocritical people. Especially the Mormon religion. Now, we all know that I'm more than happy to join in a joyous fest to bash the Peculiar Socialities of Utah Mormons, but this book makes even me look like a right-wing conservative and the family on HBO's Big Love look like a completely adjusted, normal family. Pattyn's father is a raging alcoholic who regularly beats his wife (and when she's pregnant with his first son, his daughters) to a pulp on the weekends. He willingly went off to Vietnam because he enjoys killing. He's informed his daughter that if her husband wants her to know how to drive, then he's going to have to teach her. The bishop blames the mother and daughters for any of the abuse heaped on them. I'm not naive; I realize that there are creeps like this in, well, every church. However, Hopkins goes out of her way to demonstrate that all religious people are mean-spirited, conniving, abusive imps and that only non-religious folk are truly charitable and kind and deserving of love. It got really old after a short time.
You would think that if I had to put up with this nonsense at least the poetry would have been enjoyable. Nope. It sucked, to be honest. There was no reason to tell this story in verse except that perhaps the author was incapable of actually developing the story's scenes with prose. Sure, there were a few poems here and there that were spot on in their use of form and imagery to justify their existence, but not enough to actually validate the book's existence as a whole.
In the end, don't go near this book. If you do, you'll discover, like me, that the title actually refers to the feeling you'll have after shilling out your hard-earned pennies on this book.