REALISTIC FICTION: POETRY
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Published March, 2006
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)
Grade Range: 9 and up, Age Range: 14 and up
Young Adult Fiction 7.2 x 5.4 x 1.7 inches
Hardcover: 544 pages
ALA Best Books for Young Adults Nominee
2006 National Book Award Nominee
New York Times Bestseller
Pattyn Von Stratten, the oldest of seven children born in a strict Mormon family, suffers oppression and abuse at the hand of her alcoholic father, her sheltered, old-school mother and a restrictive faith. When her rage causes her to act out and get suspended from school, she is sent to stay with her aunt in a remote Nevada ranch, where, for the first time she finds love, freedom and acceptance until a shocking turn of events destroys everything she has come to love.
Pattyn Von Stratten lives in the shadows of her Mormon faith, her abusive, alcoholic father and her subservient mother, who churns out a baby a year and leaves Pattyn to take care of them because it is “her duty.” All the children are named after famous generals, a nod to the near-militaristic way this dogmatic family is run by the father, whose head-of-household mentality and disrespectful treatment of women (including her mother and all seven of the female children) is made worse both by his severe alcoholism and abuse, and his deference to church elders who look the other way. Pattyn’s awakening against the dogma of the Mormon Church, particularly its repression of women and her father’s staunch belief in the superiority of boys (he keeps impregnating his wife to produce a son that seven times has eluded him) is fueled by reading library books and her own desire to be loved and accepted for the person she is, not the gender she was born into.
Pattyn has a crush on a non-Mormon boy names Justin, who all the girls at high school think is hot. One day, while shooting in the desert, something that her father taught her to do years before, she stumbles upon Justin, Melina, Tiffany and Derek out on a four-wheeler. She begins to talk with Derek, and the two become taken with each other. With Derek, Pattyn gets her first glimpses of a normal life—a life outside Mormonism anyway. The relationship gets to the kissing stages, and Pattyn begins to like it. She begins to drink with Derek, and loosens up. One day on the range, when the two have an opportunity to be alone, Pattyn’s father sneaks up on them and frightens Derek away. Eventually, he sends Pattyn to be counseled by the Church elders, and threatens to kill Derek if he goes near Pattyn again. Derek backs off. Enraged, Pattyn throws her backpack through the school library window and is suspended.
As punishment, Pattyn’s father sends her to live with an aunt on a remote Nevada ranch, which she fears will be the end of her. However, she learns to love her Aunt Jeannette—her independence, her ability to be her own person, and her ability to trust Pattyn—something the teen has never experienced before. She also meets Ethan, and discovers what true love really is.
One subplot involves the atomic testing that took place in the Nevada desert when Jeannette was young, her resulting inability to have children, as well as her own denial of the Mormon Church, after it interferes with her marrying the love of her life, Kevin, a non-Mormon boy.
Eventually Jeanette reveals deep, dark secrets about her brother, Pattyn’s father. Pattyn, who feels so free in the desert with Ethan and her aunt, is also concerned about her younger sister at home, who has written to tell Pattyn that her father has been beating her as well as her mother. When summer ends and Pattyn returns home, she discovers surrendering to Ethan’s love on the ranch has left her in a compromising position. What will she do now?
Burned almost made it to the top of the list of my favorite Ellen Hopkins novels. Vastly different in terms of content and subject matter, Burned discusses the problems of abuses resulting from dogma, rather than from drugs. Brutally honest, Burned tells a compelling story of a teenager’s desire for love and acceptance within the backdrop of suffocating “moral” oppression. Although I understand the reason Ms. Hopkins chose to make the father in this story an alcoholic (people of the Mormon faith are not permitted to drink alcohol), it may have been more interesting to make him abusive based on dogma alone. In a way, his alcoholism gives Mr. Von Stratten more of an excuse for his behavior than does his religion, which, for me, would have been enough reason. Perhaps Ms. Hopkins was a bit afraid (or perhaps a bit PC) to base his abuse solely on religion, as the Church of the Latter Day Saints is currently one of the fastest growing in the United States. However, as everyone knows, there are abusive practices hidden within families who attend ANY type of church, synagogue or worship, as well as those who practice no religion at all. That said, the story of Pattyn Von Stratten and her desire to try to be her own person in an overly strict Mormon family is still extremely compelling.
Burned is a riveting read all the way through page 516. After that, the story turned exceedingly dark, and came to a highly disappointing end—an end that feels artificial. Here, there is no punishment for the abuser, who goes on to create havoc of the worst kind for Pattyn, causing her to take life into her own hands in a most violent way. It makes one wonder: did true love mean so little to Pattyn Von Stratten that she would succumb to revenge of the worst kind? This does not fit the character that Ms. Hopkins so painstakingly created throughout the book—a girl who stood up against dogmatic hypocrisy and blossomed when free of it.
Based on the vast majority of her YA novels, it seems Ellen Hopkins does not believe in happy endings. On her webpage, she states that she left the ending ambiguous on purpose, but explains that suicide was not her intention for Pattyn. It seems that she is now considering a sequel to Burned. I would hope so. This is one story that, at the very least, could have left the readers with the tiniest bit of hope. For me, that hope is necessary, but missing—and its lack is utterly disappointing.
Reading level/Interest Age:
This book is recommended for 9th grade and up. It may appeal to all Ellen Hopkins fans, as well young adults who may question the faith and values of their parents’ belief systems, whatever they may be. This particular novel may appeal more to young women, as it discusses how some religions subjugate women into subservient roles; however, it is a must-read for young men of all backgrounds who want to grow up to be fair and respectful toward women, as it shows that male obsession and violence toward females only begets more violence, and locks up the promise of young women back to the 19th century.
Information about the Author:
No one should be surprised that Ellen Hopkins started out as a poet, since each of her young adult novels is written in the broken lines of both rhymed and unrhymed verse. Hopkins herself says “that in a previous life, I was a freelance writer, nonfiction author and, then and now, a poet” (Hopkins in Red Room, 2009).
Compared to many other YA authors, there is not much biographical information on Ellen Hopkins outside of her own website, although she is probably one of the more fan-accessible writers today. Married to John Hopkins for a lot of years, Ellen Hopkins has three grown children—two daughters and one son—as well as a twelve-year-old son at home in Carson City, Nevada. Her own webpage contains the most information available about her—especially in the FAQ section, where she answers readers’ questions about her life. She wrote twenty nonfiction books before becoming a YA author, but those titles are not available.
According to her website, http://www.ellenhopkins.com/ , Ms. Hopkins was born in 1955, but was adopted by a much older couple. Her adoptive dad and mom Albert and Valeria Wagner were 72 and 42 years old respectively, at the time of her birth. She grew up in the Palm Springs area surrounded by many of the rich and famous like Elvis Presley and Bob Hope. Her father, a hard-working man with a sixth grade education, made most of his money during World War Two in the steel industry. She had her first child, Jason at 21, followed by Cristal in 1978. Cristal is the real-life Kristina in the books Crank and Glass and the upcoming Fallout, scheduled for release in 2010. Her daughter Kelly is from a “rebound relationship” that happened after her divorce from Jason and Cristal’s father. Hopkins has been writing her entire life, but didn’t begin writing “for money” until the 1990s when she moved to the Carson City area. She met her current husband, John Hopkins around 1985, and they married in 1991. He is her best friend and her “forever love” (Hopkins, 2010).
Could be a great companion in a twelfth grade comparative religion class along with Elmer Gantry and The Exorcist.
You were raised in a very religious family that has very definite views about what is right and what is wrong, according to the “faith.” You are a teenager, and you question the dogma. After all, you dad is an alcoholic (but a good religious man) and your mom bows down to everything he says. What about what is right in your eyes? And, when you and your sisters are abused by your religious father, what do you do? Can you escape? Can you survive? Or are you stuck forever in a religion you no longer believe in?
Some religious conservatives, including to some who subscribe to the Mormon faith, might find this offensive.
Why I Included This Book:
All of Ellen Hopkins’ novels seem to disappear from our library shelves. This one, for me, was more interesting, because it dealt with the problems that can occur when dogmatic religious beliefs take the place of common sense. Of all Hopkins novels, I found this one the best, except for the dark (and disappointing) ending. Another one-night read!
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