Friday, February 24, 2012

Perfect - Ellen Hopkins (Audio)

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    




15 comments:

Jackie Bailey said...

You've done more to persuade me to read free verse than anyone else. I will get around to it one day and this sounds like an interesting place to start. Thanks for pushing me to try something new!

bermudaonion said...

I love free verse but tried one book written in verse on audio and it didn't work for me. I read this book in print and adored it. She took on tons of issues, but it worked and it worked well!!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I know I am narrow about this, but books in free verse really turn me off! You're quite the innovator lately, though, what with graphic novels and free verse!

Julie P. said...

I so agree with everything you said. I don't get poetry but I do enjoy free verse! I have this one to try. Looks like I need to get to it soon!

Ellen Hopkins said...

Thanks much for giving it a try. I agree the readers are amazing.

Zibilee said...

I am so eager to listen to this one, and it will be my first novel in free verse as well. As hard as it can be to be a parent to a teenager, I think it's important to recognize that it can be really hard to be a teenager as well. It sounds like something that I would really get a lot out of and would make me look at the plights my children and the kids that are around them are in very differently. Exceptional review today!

Jenners said...

So much in this review -- thoughts on parenting, encouragement to try free verse. Thanks!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

This is one I don't think I would have ever picked up without this review. Free verse scares me, but it sounds really interesting!

Ti said...

I don't remember my teen years being so angst ridden. Yes, things happened and we overreacted in dramatic ways, but considering the issues...they were small beans.

Kathleen said...

You've managed to convince me yet again to read something that I never would otherwise. I flee from poetry and I don't listen to audio but in this case I am compelled to give this one a try.

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

I LOVED this one and you're right, it was brilliant on audio. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Sandy!

Darlene said...

I was hesitant to try Hopkins because I'm not all that fond of poetry but Staci persuaded me with her reviews that they were fantastic so I tried one and have so far read three of hers. They are amazing. I haven't read this one yet but hopefully soon.

Belle Wong said...

I've avoided free verse books, but you make PERFECT sound so tempting. I might get this for my daughter - it sounds like something she'd enjoy.

Tasha B. said...

This is the second YA novel I've heard about in as many days that's in free verse. I wonder if this is a new trend?

Melissa said...

I love Ellen Hopkins! I've heard great things about her audios, but I will stick with her books in print. I love the way the words look on the page.