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Smoke

Gritty sequel about abused sisters lacks original's spark.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Smoke can help spark discussions about physical abuse, bullying, rape, and religion. Pattyn wonders, "How far / Are you willing to watch someone go before / you have / no choice but to jump up / off the sidelines and into / the game?" Parents may want to ask their own kids this question. When would they step in to help someone who's being bullied or abused?

Positive messages

The author includes statistics about abuse in the back of the book. This, combined with the story, may inspire readers to think about the prevalence of abuse and help them empathize with -- and reach out to -- victims. 

Positive role models

Pattyn and Jackie are trying to move on after years of abuse -- and a particularly horrifying night when one of them shot their father dead. They may not always do the right thing, but their struggle with knowing when to speak up seems realistic and may help other teens who witness bullying or abusive behavior. Their Aunt J remains a solid, loving character, and each girl also finds an amazing young man who helps her heal. 

Violence

A father beats his recently raped daughter and then is shot dead in the family shed. His daughter later finds his blood and parts of his body on jars of canned food. Racists shoot one man, and two other young people are wounded. A boy gets into a fight trying to stop other boys from violently bullying an openly gay kid.  Wild horses are massacred with guns and pipe bombs. Pattyn helps thwart an attempted rape. 

Sex

Pattyn remembers having sex with Ethan, which resulted in a pregnancy, but there's no description. She and Angel kiss and sleep together but do not have sex. Jackie and Gavin share some steamy kisses but don't go further. 

Language

A few uses of "s--t" and "f--k," plus nearly a dozen uses of "bitch" and a few utterences of "crap," "ass," and "a-----e."

Consumerism

A few mention of brand names -- iPhone, Chevy Tahoe, Coke, Walmart, Johnnie Walker Black -- but nothing is really celebrated.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A dangerous teen drinks and is arrested with her friends for having marijuana and bath salts. Jackie gets drunk on her dead father's alcohol. Pattyn remembers her own father's alcoholism but still drinks tequila to help herself deal with her difficult past.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that -- like Ellen Hopkins' other novels -- Smoke features some intense material. In this case, it's mostly violence. For example, after her father is shot dead in the family shed, his recently raped daughter finds his blood and pieces of his body on canning jars; racists shoot a man, and two other young people are wounded; a boy gets into a fight trying to stop others violently bullying an openly gay kid; wild horses are massacred with guns and pipe bombs; a teen girl helps thwart an attempted rape in a public restroom. There's also drinking, swearing, and some steamy kissing. The negative portrayal of the Mormon church may trouble some readers. Smoke can certainly help spark discussions about physical abuse, bullying, rape, and religion -- and at what point one has to intervene when someone else is being abused.

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What's the story?

SMOKE is the sequel to Burned, a book about an abusive man's toll on his Mormon family. The story here picks up after he's been shot dead, and Pattyn, his oldest daughter -- who walked in on him beating her sister after she was raped -- is on the run as the primary suspect. Still haunted by the death of her first love, recently killed in a car crash, and missing her family, heartbroken Pattyn finds a job as a live-in maid on a Northern California fruit orchard. A friendship with a sweet, poetic undocumented worker helps her start to heal, and she begins to wonder if she has another chance at love. Meanwhile, her sister Jackie also narrates what's happening at home: Her mother not only won't press charges against Jackie's rapist, she tells Jackie that she herself is partially to blame for the attack. But Jackie's own first love, and her fear that Caleb might rape another girl, leads her to finally speak the truth. She's also finally able to remember what really happened the night of her father's murder, revealing something that no one has suspected.

Is it any good?

QUALITY

Smoke feels like a bit of a kitchen sink novel, with all sorts of plot lines mixed in. Beyond the basic story, Pattyn faces off against a racist group of "Sovereign citizens [who] don't believe in / taxes / licenses / authority / government," and Jackie falls in love with a boy with two moms, who's witnessed a different kind of terrible abuse at their school. Hopkins fans will be at home with the fast-moving verse format (including clever poems that run parallel to each other on the page and can be read together or separately). Also, although readers will find plenty to think about in this gritty sequel -- including an important message about the importance of speaking up against bullies, even when it puts you at risk -- they may be put off by all the plotting, as well as by an ending that wraps up much too conveniently.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about physical abuse and its effects. The author says one teen in three knows a friend or peer who's been physically hurt by a partner. Does that number surprise you?

  • Do books like Smoke do anything to help abuse victims? 

  • Author Ellen Hopkins often writes about controversial topics -- and speaks publicly against censorship. Who, if anyone, do you think has the right to decide which books are inappropriate for you to read?

Book details

Author:Ellen Hopkins
Genre:Poetry
Topics:Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:McElderry Books
Publication date:September 10, 2013
Number of pages:560
Publisher's recommended age(s):14 - 18
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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