Back maybe a year ago I was persuaded (by my daughter no less) to try a book written in free verse. This was a HUGE leap of faith for me, and all of you doubters out there, you need to hear this. I have never "gotten" poetry, I'm resistant to it, and generally avoid it at all costs. So to me, free verse = poetry = something awful.
However, please trust me on this one. Free verse is not poetry. It is normal prose written in a pretty way on the page, with some rhythm to it, nothing more. So drop that baggage where you stand and come walk with me for a few minutes.
Ellen Hopkins is known for her edgy YA material, written in free verse. Since I know now that free verse is totally my thing, I made a vow to check her out this year. This was my first stab at her work, because a whole bunch of you pointed me in this direction.
Synopsis: "Perfect" is narrated by four individuals, all teens nearing the end of their high school years, all struggling with the pressures placed upon them by society, peers and parents.
Cara is your classic over-achiever, with the pressure of the world's future placed on her shoulders by her parents...she must excel at her grades and get into Stanford. She has the perfect boyfriend, she is a cheerleader. The fact that her twin brother just attempted to kill himself and is now into a psychiatric hospital just adds to the stress. When Cara begins to doubt who she truly is, she fears the new Cara will never be acceptable to her peers or her parents.
Kendra has the perfect face and perfect body. Who cares about college when everyone has told her she will be on the runway someday, making millions. But how far will she go to make this dream come true? Starvation? Drugs? Surgeries?
Sean, Cara's perfect boyfriend, lives his life for two things. His future with Cara, and to fine-tune his body so he can get a full-ride scholarship for baseball. He knows that his mother and father, who have both passed away, would approve of his plans for the future. But when his God-given gifts are not enough to suit him, he turns to steroids to give him that extra edge, not realizing all the repercussions that come with it.
Andre, although probably the most level-headed of the bunch, still has battles to fight. His parents have high expectations for his future, but his passion lies in dance, something completely unacceptable and even deemed "gay" to his father. Plus, he is in love with a white girl who doesn't really share his interests.
My thoughts: I know this sounds like a lot of teen angst, something we get in nearly every YA book published. But there is something special in Ellen Hopkins literary voice that makes these four interwoven stories totally compelling. Yes, these are fairly affluent kids and could be viewed as spoiled. But at their core, they are good kids. They are real, they have fears and dreams and feelings. Their voices were authentic and full of emotion.
I understood that these were modern teens with problems that many of them face these days, and this terrifies me. I felt like I was hiding in a high school bathroom and overhearing things I didn't want to know. We have a regular smorgasbord of issues to pick from...eating disorders, homosexuality, drugs, depression, dysfunctional families, alcoholism, promiscuity. I immediately could empathize with why they were feeling the way they did, and reacted the way they did. But at the same time it's horrifying. It was like seeing a devastating automobile accident on the highway and not being able to avert your gaze.
As a parent, I know that it is my inherent nature to want the best for my kids. I want them to find their passion and succeed at it. If I set my expectations high, then they will know no other way. Hey, I don't want them living with me when they are 40, I want them to be responsible, contributing members of society! However, this book was a nudging reminder that parents can push it too far. The genius is finding that middle ground. This book really made me sit down and ponder a few things.
So about this free verse thing...
A few words about the audio production: Free verse is invisible on audio. Which just proves what I said at the beginning...normal prose made pretty on the page.
There was a cast of narrators, one for each of the main characters, which is the way is should be. Aya Cash (who I heard recently on The Dovekeepers and is wonderful), Heather Lind, Aaron Tveit and Tristan Wilds made for an incredible listening experience. I don't know their ages, but they sounded young and embodied youth. Every one of them held their own, and I'd eagerly listen to anything else they do.
5 out of 5 stars