A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this young adult bestseller deals with mature subjects, including incest. Like Hopkins' other books, there is a lot of gritty material: One twin sister is sexually abused by her alcoholic father, while the other twin wishes she were the one he abused. To cope, the teens engage in dangerous behaviors, including cutting, trading sex for drugs, binge eating, bulimia, drug use (pot and hashish), and sadomasochistic sex. One twin tries to commit suicide. Parents are physically and emotionally abusive, and deliberately ignore signs of abuse. While this book can open up discussions about plenty of topics, including cutting, eating disorders, secret keeping -- and even book censorship, parents may find it useful to read the book along with their teens so they can help them through the difficult material.
What's the story?
Identical twins Kaeleigh and Raeanne wear designer clothes and live in a nice house with their politician mother and district-court judge father. Despite the cheerful appearances for press conferences, though, the family is imploding under the strain of years-old lies. A car accident caused a rift between their parents. Now their mother is always gone and their father turns his drunken attentions to Kaeleigh. Raeanne, bereft of both her parents, keeps pushing the edge, whether it's sex, drugs, or alcohol. How far will both twins go to escape their dark secrets?
Is it any good?
With IDENTICAL, Hopkins sticks with her successful formula, writing a thick book of free verse poetry about abused, self-destructive teens. As readers tick off behaviors (bulimia --check, cutting -- check), more cynical readers might wonder why she didn't make the girls triplets so she could toss in a few more. The biggest complaint is the lack of editing -- there's simply no reason this needs to be 565 pages long. Even easy-to-read poems can't make up for redundant lessons and tedious action.
Both parents are caricatures, and the twins are preternaturally self-aware as they engage in overblown prose like "Why can't he and I find/a way to accept each other, lose ourselves in all-/encompassing love, the kind that can save you?/ The kind that can glue/ all the fragments of two/ broken hearts together." The novel's twist, while shocking, veers into soap opera territory.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about books that feature tough topics, such as suicide, drug addiction, and abuse. Are there any topics that are inappropriate for teen readers? If so, who should decide what they are?
How would this story have been different if it had been written as a straight-forward narrative rather than as a free verse novel? Does the poetry add power?
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