People Kill People

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
People Kill People Book Poster Image
Dark, gritty story tackles gun violence, white supremacy.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Takes readers for a walk on the fictional dark side as they learn the reasons why some people are prone to violence, some are consumed by racial hatred, and others are intent on revenge.

Positive Messages

There are always people who will stand up against hate.

Positive Role Models & Representations

With a few exceptions, this novel is filled with troubled and sometimes violent characters. While the author relates enough of their backgrounds for readers to begin to understand why their lives have gone so terribly wrong, and a brief epilogue shows that a few have managed to turn their lives around, this is not a read for anyone looking for positive role models.

Violence

Violence is at the book's core. While the main characters rarely act on their violent impulses, they're continually thinking, obsessing about how to kill someone they hate or exact revenge on someone they believed has wronged them. A young boy's rape and a woman being stabbed to death are described in some detail. A man is shot, killed in a road rage incident; two women are killed in robberies; a girl knifes a boy who tries to rape her; a character is severely beaten by two other teens.

Sex

A young woman trades sex for cash whenever she wants to buy something and is out of money. Teen characters have sex and oral sex.

Language

Profanity and racist remarks run throughout the novel. People are called "apes," "spades," "taco benders," "wetbacks," and "f-gs." Characters regularly use "f--k," "goddamn," "damn," "pissed," "s--t," and "bitch."

Consumerism

A few single mentions of Red Bull, Chick-fil-A, various pop artists, YouTube, and Soundcloud.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character smokes and sells marijuana. Teens drink and smoke weed.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ellen Hopkins' People Kill People is a dark and tragic story of six Tucson teens, one of whom purchases a gun that will take someone's life. The storyline explores their deeply troubled pasts and how those pasts have influenced a present filled with racism, fear, jealousy, and the need for revenge. A boy's rape and a woman's stabbing death are described in some detail. People are shot and killed, and a teen knifes a boy who tries to rape her. Teens have sex and oral sex, and one trades sex for spending money. Three characters are white supremacists. There's racist language ("spades," "taco benders," "wetbacks"), and characters regularly use "f--k," "goddamn," "pissed," "s--t," and "bitch." While the novel explores important and timely issues of racism and immigration and could lead to some serious conversations between teens and parents about guns and violence, many parents may feel it should come with a warning label. 

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What's the story?

PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE begins with an unnamed narrator asking readers if they've ever had the desire to really hurt someone. The answer is yes, believes the narrator, because violence lives inside each of us, just waiting for a moment in time that will set it off. He sets out to prove his case using the stories of six Tucson teens, one of whom will buy a gun that will kill someone by the novel's end. Rand is 19 and married Cami, his high school girlfriend, after she got pregnant. Rand wants revenge against the man who sexually abused him as a kid. Cami does a bit of drug dealing when she runs short of money. Silas is the captain of the high school football team and a secret white supremacist. He hates his father for leaving his mother to live with his Latina girlfriend and is outraged that his mother has a Jewish boyfriend. Ashlyn, whose father murdered her mother, is also a white supremacist. Daniel, whose mother has been deported to Honduras, seems mild-mannered but has deep-seated anger that can turn into rages. He's terrified of losing his girlfriend, Grace. Noelle is Cami's sister and Grace's best friend. She has seizures after being shot in a road rage incident and is secretly in love with Grace. As the story unfolds, the narrator explores each teen's life, revealing how each has a possible motive -- racism, revenge, jealousy, fear -- for murder. 

Is it any good?

The lives of six troubled teen characters make for a chilling and disturbing novel that takes on serious and timely issues around gun violence, racism, and immigration. The relationship of the teens in People Kill People is so hard to keep track of (Daniel's half-brother is Tim, who's friends with Silas, who's stalking Daniel's girlfriend, Grace, who's the sometime best friend of Noelle, who's the sister of Rand's wife, Cami) that readers may want to take notes in order to keep everyone straight. While the revelation of the killer at the end is shocking, many readers may also find it makes for an unsatisfying conclusion to the story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why the narrator of People Kill People believes almost anyone is capable of violence toward others. Do you agree with the narrator that, under the right circumstances, even people you know and love might commit a violent act?

  • How difficult is it to buy a gun in your community? Do you think the current gun law is too lenient or too strict? If you were writing new gun laws for your community, what changes would you make?

  • Silas had two identities: one as captain of the high school football team and a secret life as a white supremacist. How difficult do you think it would be to keep a secret like that in your school? What would the reaction be if a popular and respected student was revealed to be a racist?

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