Identical

Book review by
Stephanie Dunnewind, Common Sense Media
Identical Book Poster Image
Thick free-verse bestseller takes graphic look at incest.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 14 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 20 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Could open up discussions about a wide range of issues, including cutting, eating disorders -- and even book censorship. Parents who are concerned about the mature material may want to read this book with their teens to be better prepared for discussions -- and their questions and reactions. 

Positive Messages

Teens will certainly be disturbed by this challenging book, and find themselves thinking about the various issues raised, including destructive behaviors and the danger of keeping secrets. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

It's hard to find a real role model here, beyond Kaeleigh's boyfriend Ian, who  supports her and tries to help her. But it's easy to empathize with the characters here who are struggling with a myriad of issues, including the collapse of their family. 

Violence

Several graphic descriptions of incestuous, forced oral sex. The father causes a head-on car accident. Mick yanks Raeanne's arm hard enough to leave bruises and at one point tries to physically force her to perform oral sex even when she says no. Kaeleigh cuts herself to the point where "The drain runs red" and attempts suicide by swallowing painkillers. Their father was forced to sexually pose for child pornography at age 10. Ty asks Raeanne, "How far will you go with me? . . . Will you let me draw blood?" After explaining that she is jealous of her father's incestuous relationship with her twin, Raeanne says she wishes her father "realized I want to love him the way Mom used to….If Daddy would just stand still for me, I'd happily tap his core." About her father's incest, Kaeleigh says, "What if I ask for it somehow,/ maybe subconsciously? Being brutally honest with myself it/ feels good." Kaeleigh's elderly friend shares her own experience as a child with a violent, incestuous father. Her father starts to hit Kaeleigh, then stops when a nurse threatens to report him for child abuse.

Sex

Raeanne trades sex for drugs; she has masochistic sex with a young man she just met at a party. When a police officer pulls Mick and Raeanne over, Mick suggests Raeanne "tell him you'll give him head." The father has an affair with a younger married neighbor. 

Language

"F--k," "s--t," "piss," "dumb-ass," "bitch," "prick," "skank," "effing."

Consumerism

Wild Turkey, OxyContin.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Raeanne trades sex for drugs; there is an entire ode to the joys of pot: "I love the way the thick smoke/ tastes, curling across my tongue/ snaking down my throat. I love/ holding it in. Coughing it out./ I love head rushes, the creeping/ warmth that follows." Later, she tries opiated hash. Their father is an alcoholic and drug addict, binge-drinking bourbon and swallowing prescription pain medication. Raeanne mixes three pills into her father's drinks so he will pass out. Their mother serves her daughters wine to the point where they get drunk. Mick drives while under the influence. Kaeleigh drinks to the point of vomiting. Raeanne says, "Dopeless sex? That could not feel good." Their grandmother is an alcoholic who deserted her family.

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. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written bykmcampbell08 January 19, 2011

One of my favorite books..

Ellen Hopkins is one of my favorite authors. She deals with real issues, even if they aren't warm and fuzzy. Her books are realistic and informative for... Continue reading
Adult Written byCoffeeTable June 7, 2010

Inapropriate for under 15

I personally enjoyed it. A big plot twister on the end which i got, but one of my students (grade 12) who read it did not. It is true to Ellen Hopkins’ other bo... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byurmysunshine2013 July 29, 2009

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

disturbing. DO NOT LET YOUR CHILDREN READ THIS BOOK. PERIOD.
Teen, 14 years old Written byNorthernNights June 7, 2010

I didn't really like it, it depressed me

What on earth has Ellen Hopkins been through! Geeze! Nothing agents her but it made me feel gray.

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? 

Book details

For kids who love books for teens

Our editors recommend

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate