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In pop culture, YADA-YADA usually means "blah, blah, blah" or "more of the same." For this blog, YADA-YADA is an acronym meaning "Young Adult Discussions About Young Adult-Designed Art." Check out my summaries and reviews of teen media. Chime in and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blog No. 7--Tricks by Ellen Hopkins


Title: Tricks
Author: Ellen Hopkins

Bibliographic Information:
Product Details
Margaret K. McElderry, August 2009
Hardcover, 640 pages
ISBN-10: 1416950079
ISBN-13: 9781416950073
Ages: 14 and up
Grades: 9 and up

National Bestseller #1 New York Times® Bestseller
Awards and Nominations
ALA Rainbow List Selection, NYPL "Books for the Teen Age"

Reader’s Annotation:
Sometimes bad things happen to good kids due to the choices they make—but sometimes it’s not about choice at all—it’s just what happens when they are forced out of their homes and try to survive on their own. Tricks tells five separate stories about five basically decent teenagers from all over the country who find themselves having to turn to their own bodies for their survival—but it’s how they got there—not what they did—that is so compelling.

Plot Summary:
Ellen Hopkins newest book, Tricks, follows five teenagers from five different walks of life and from five different areas in the county who, for no fault of their own, find
themselves in places they never thought they would be, doing things to survive that they never believed they would – or could—do. In typical Hopkins fashion, she weaves the five stories of these teenagers together into one amazing tale of survival.

Eden Streit is the sweet daughter of a preacher—an old-fashioned fire and brimstone type preacher—who sees everything as a sin. When Eden meets Andrew at church and they fall in love—an innocent, real kind of love—her father accuses her of being immoral, and sends her off to a home for troubled teens run by other preachers where Eden ends up victimized and in a fight for her very soul.

Seth Parnell lives and works on a farm with his father, and they both are trying to come to term with the loss of Seth’s mom. But Seth has a bigger secret: he’s gay, he’s in love, and he desperately wants to come out to his father. When dad “accidentally” reads a letter from Seth’s old lover, he disowned Seth and sends him packing with only forty dollars and a suitcase. Unfortunately, Seth is forced to make decisions to survive that are not at all about love…

Whitney Lang’s older sister is successful, bright, beautiful and the favorite in the family—all things that Whitney wishes she could be. Whitney’s parents are distant: her dad whom she loves literally works several days a week in faraway San Francisco; mom is self-absorbed and finds fault with everything Whitney does. Feeing lost and ignored, Whitney looks for love where she can and thinks she finds it, only to find that love has led her down a dark and scary path.

Ginger Cordell lives in a multi-generational household not by choice—her mother is a prostitute, and grandmother is caring for her and all of her siblings (from different fathers, of course). Ginger strives to be everything her mom is not, until she is betrayed by her mother in the most horrific and hurtful way, and decides to leave to find a better life.

All-American Cody Bennett, a typical jock and occasional partier, lives the great life with mom and step-dad, Jack, until Jack gets very sick and dies, and his younger brother begins acting out and getting in trouble. Cody begins drinking more and starts to gamble, until one day he finds that he needs serious money to help his family survive—and he goes to dark lengths to get it.

All five of these characters end up in and around Las Vegas, where life seems glamorous on the outside, but where a strong and vile underbelly exists. Prostitution is legal here, and survival is questionable at best. Who will survive, who will make it out—these are the questions Hopkins poses in these five stories within a story.

Critical Evaluation:
Tricks was the very first Ellen Hopkins book I read. This was good, because it was such a compelling read that it made me excited to read her other books. However, this was bad, because, at least for me, the others palled in comparison. With Tricks, Hopkins writes a straight-forward novel in verse. There are no gimmicky concrete or shape poems to get lost in, or no weird line breaks jumping all over the page. There is a strong variety of well drawn characters for the reader to actually care about. I found myself not wanting to put this book down as I read it. The only gimmick about this book was that Hopkins decided to continue her habit of breaking lines, just like her other novels. This one doesn’t need line breaks to suck in the reader. In fact, this is the least “poetic” of all Hopkins books. It is simply a good strong narrative about five distinct and interesting characters, intricately interwoven to the book’s stunning conclusion.

What I found most interesting about this book is that the problems of most of these teenage characters did not start with them, but with their parents. This novel practically screams the message that many parents out there should not only read, but take to heart: Sometimes, dear adults, you, not your children, are the problem.

In both Crank and Glass, the story revolved around one teenager’s fall from grace due to her obsession with a very powerful drug—crystal meth—and that fall was, for the most part, her own fault. Sure her mom was not completely available either, but overall the family cared about each other. Perhaps the biggest fault of the parents in these two books is that they weren’t always paying attention. In Tricks however, the families are largely responsible for the ends their children meet: in almost every case these families were dysfunctional. They were too dogmatically religious, too concerned about appearances, too rigid about biology and gender expectations, too selfishly locked in their own depression to take care of their families, and too messed up by drugs sex or booze themselves, putting their children—especially their girl children—at horrendous risk. In fact, Tricks is a great psychological study of how NOT to be a parent.

Mature teens will find this book compelling, because they will really feel these characters. What I most hope is that none of the teens reading Tricks find either themselves or their parents in this book. However, in a country as large, as diverse and as problem-filled as modern America, I’m sadly confident that many teens will relate to Tricks because these characters reveal aspects of their own lives, or those of their friends. Luckily, a few of the characters escape their dire straits. Maybe teens (and hopefully their parents) that read this, can take Tricks as a cautionary tale for what can happen when adult stop paying attention. Overall, Tricks is by far—both in story and in the narrative craft—Hopkins’ greatest novel.

Reading level/Interest Age:
Like all Hopkins’ books, Tricks is NOT for kids. In some ways, it’s not even for some teens, either. The material is tough, strong and frightening, and I think that this is one Hopkins novel that should be considered for those 17 and up. It’s not that they teens haven’t read or heard about this before—it’s just that Hopkins so honestly tells these five stories, that it might be upsetting for those readers who really get wrapped up and involved with their characters. Perhaps it should be no surprise that I found this book in the adult—not the young adult—section of our public library. While I don’t agree that it belongs there (most adults would not want to read this, but they should read it), I do think that students younger than 17 should be warned that this is a tough book to take. Emotionally, it is not for everyone.

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).

Curriculum Ties: None.

Booktalking Ideas:
Imagine that you are sixteen or seventeen and your parent(s) has thrown you out of the house for a philosophical disagreement: you see something one way, they see that same thing another way, and for the most part, it is just not that important, but they toss you out to make your own way in the world—or worse yet, send you someplace to “cure” you of your bad ideas. What would you do? How would you survive? Meet five teenagers who are faced with that situation, and see what happens to them. It isn’t pretty…

Challenge Issues:
Teen prostitution. How to overcome challenges: discuss that the library is designed to reach a wide variety of readers, and that this book is a cautionary tale that many students and parents should consider reading together. Many teens need to be aware of some of life’s horrors, and parents needs to understand how easy it can be for teens to be sucked into a predatory situation. This book dispels all the myths. It is an important book for family discussion.

Why I Included This Book:
All of Ellen Hopkins’ novels seem to disappear from our library shelves. This one is her absolute grittiest—but perhaps her best.

Cover image courtesy of: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Tricks/Ellen-Hopkins/9781416950073

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