Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013.

This book is a sequel to Burned, Hopkins’ second novel, so if you haven’t read that one, you may want to stop reading here. Burned presents Pattyn Von Stratton as she attempts to navigate her growth as a teenager and her developing sexuality within the confines of her very difficult life in an abusive household within a misogynistic Mormon community.

Smoke follows Pattyn and Jackie, her younger sister, in the wake of the violence that ended Burned. Taking her mother’s advice, Pattyn is on the run from the law and Jackie is left at home. Both young women are suffering from post-traumatic stress and yet must still navigate their complicated lives. I dare not divulge more for fear of spoiling the story.

As always, Ellen Hopkins puts characters in impossibly difficult, but believable, situations. But her characters are struggling with universal teen concerns, too: Am I loveable? Will I be kissed before my 16th birthday? Who am I going to be? She is masterful at presenting characters that the reader quickly becomes invested in. The verity of her characters, the beauty of her verse, the underlying current of hope, and the fear of what might happen kept me reading Smoke late—too late—into the night.

Smoke presents and examines a lot of hard topics including abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual), rape, poverty, misogyny and other abuses of power, and illegal immigration. It also shows the characters and the readers that respectful and loving relationships, both platonic and romantic, are a choice that even victims can make. The characters consider who they want to be as adults and struggle with finding the lines between attraction, lust, and love. The best and worst of human behaviors are examined in Hopkins’ spare and enticing verse.

I’ve read that Hopkins’ books are often favorites of reluctant readers, and I can see why. She enlists sympathy immediately, uses strong imagery, few words, and a driving pace. This book is highly recommended, though you’ll want to read Burned first.

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