(Review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/30953.html)Why I Read It:
Back in 2007 I was a very sad and depressed person (for various reasons), thus I was a tad more angsty than most 17 year olds. It seems only fitting that I would discover Ellen Hopkins at this time (it was her debut Crank for anyone who's curious), who is one of the saddest, most depressing, most angsty authors in the YA market today. I haven't been quite as in love with her subsequent work, but I've never been completely disappointed either and she somehow wormed her way into being one of the authors whose work I always find myself buying (though only when it comes out in paperback.)
Ellen Hopkins is not everyone's cup of tea. Her books are VERY dark and VERY grim and they rarely have even a smidgen of hope. Her stories are graphic and gut-wrenching and she does not pull any punches. It's hard to stomach sometimes, so you really need to be in the right frame of mind to read these, or at least be prepared.
This novel is no different. There is some horrific stuff in here: Eden's exile into a religious reformative facility where she's forced to let a man essentially sexually molest her if she wants any chance of escape; Ginger's mother selling her body without her consent; Cody's downward spiral when all he wanted was to help his family; Seth being kicked out of his home because of his sexual orientation. And life rarely lets up for these kids; anything that CAN go wrong DOES go wrong. It's almost a desensitizing experience; you get so used to everything going wrong that you start to not even be shocked or horrified -- you just come to expect it, which is even sadder when you think about it.
When thinking of all six characters, I have a hard time deciding who I feel most sorry for. Ginger's situation is probably the most horrifying: she's raped (more than once) because her mother (who is a prostitute) sells her to other men without her consent. That is just sick beyond belief. The character I felt the "least" sorry for was probably Whitney; running away with an older dude you haven't known for very long, no matter the circumstances, is rarely a good idea. I'm not saying it's her fault, but better judgment might have been beneficial. Cody's story affected me quite a bit too. He comes off as such a chauvinistic asshole at the beginning of the book, but he's really a good kid deep down. Really though? I feel terrible for all these characters. What's sad is, while I sometimes found myself feeling like I had to suspend my disbelief that ALL these things could go wrong with these people, I had niggling feeling that these kinds of things most likely HAVE happened to people. Just because it's outside MY realm of possibility doesn't mean it's outside others', and that makes me really sad.
Hopkins also explores different avenues of prostitution. Ginger felt like a kind of archetypal case of what I imagine happens when people are forced into prostitution, but Hopkins presents situations in which middle-class people are forced into it as well. And there's not just the Standing On the Street Corner brand of prostitution -- we're shown situations like Seth's, where in exchange for being "taken care of" he needs to put out sexually even if it's outside of his comfort zone or without his consent. It's as equally horrifying as the girls who sell themselves on the street. I appreciated that Hopkins gave such a diverse range of circumstances that would lead people to selling/giving their bodies (though it is hard to stomach at times, it's so heart-wrenching.)
For those of you who don't know, Hopkins' novels are written in verse. The most common criticism I hear about verse novels is that it's just prose broken up at random intervals to make poems. With Ellen Hopkins this is not the case. The format she writes them is somewhat inconventional, but makes it possible to read the poems in different ways which at times reveal little hidden messages that usually add to what the character is saying, or lends some kind of insight into the character's state of mind. So I think the verse format works well. Despite this format making the books very fast reads, the characters still get ample character development as well, and doesn't resort to solely "telling".Final Judgment:
This novel packs a pretty big emotional punch. It's a very triggering novel, so if you're easily affected by these kinds of things you might want to stay away. It is a very powerful story that offers different perspectives on the how and why people might be pushed to prostitution. The novel is written in verse, and while Hopkins hasn't done anything different with her verse, they're still GOOD poems and not just narrative broken up randomly to make them into poems. I recommend this if you're a fan of Hopkins or if you're looking for an "issue" book that doesn't pull any punches.