A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ellen Hopkins' The You I've Never Known is a coming-of-age novel that creatively uses verse and prose to tell the stories of two young women trying to escape their abusive homes. Although this book can help teens learn the importance of perseverance and tolerance, parents should be aware that the book tackles mature topics such as abuse, bullying, and homophobia. Several characters, including teens, drink and smoke. There are some fairly graphic sex scenes as Ariel tries to determine her sexual identity. Violence includes a fistfight after an attempted sexual assault, memories of domestic abuse, and a significant car crash. Strong language includes frequent uses of "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "hell," "bitch," "bastard," "p---y," and anti-gay slurs.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In THE YOU I'VE NEVER KNOWN, Ariel Pearson and Maya McCabe will do anything to escape their abusive parents. Ariel's dad, Mark, has raised her to believe she's nothing without him and that her mom abandoned her as a baby. His constant homophobic remarks about Ariel's mom make it hard for her to understand her attraction to both her Mexican-American lesbian best friend, Monica, as well as her dad's girlfriend's handsome nephew, Gabe. On the other hand, Maya believes the only way to avoid her mom's plans to force her into Scientology is to get pregnant and marry the first man she meets. But when her marriage begins to take an unexpected turn, Maya must figure out how to handle her family being torn apart. The girls' lives intersect when Ariel learns the shocking truth about her identity, making her question everything she's ever known about her past and her plans for the future.
Is it any good?
Hopkins creatively uses verse and prose to connect her characters, explore bisexuality, and highlight the power of perseverance. Her word choices and their placement on the page capture the girls' pain as well as their desperate longing for love and a place to call home. Although Ariel doubts herself and her identity throughout The You I've Never Known, her decision to break free from her dad's manipulation and abuse is empowering.
Clues about the characters' identities and their connections are slowly revealed, but it's frustrating waiting for the predictable plot twist to be confirmed and makes the ending feel rushed.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the heavy themes of The You I've Never Known. Is it important for kids -- even those who have never had to deal with an abusive home life -- to read Ariel and Maya's stories? Why, or why not? How does the book deal with sex and violence? How do these issues affect the characters?
Families can talk about the book's portrayals of gay characters. What kind of impact do you think character depictions like those in The You I've Never Known have on teen readers -- both gay and straight?
Do you think books written in free verse -- such as Hopkins' Glass, Impulse, and Perfect -- are easier to read? What does the style -- and the way the poems connect with one another -- convey to you? Do you prefer free verse or prose?
- Author: Ellen Hopkins
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
- Publication date: January 24, 2017
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 608
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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