What parents need to know
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.
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?
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?