The You I've Never Known

Book review by
Amanda Nojadera, Common Sense Media
The You I've Never Known Book Poster Image
Moving LGBTQ tale tackles abuse, bullying, and homophobia.

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The You I've Never Known can be used to discuss abuse, bullying, bisexuality, and homophobia. Hopkins provides a clear definition of gaslighting with examples of how Mark made Ariel and Maya doubt themselves and believe everything was their fault. Teens can also talk about the effects of PTSD.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about the power of perseverance, love, and tolerance. The book also sends a strong anti-drunk-driving message and stresses the importance of consent.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ariel is smart, honest, and tough. Although her dad makes her doubt herself and question whom she should love, she becomes a a strong, independent survivor of abuse just like Maya. Maya is courageous and determined. She never stops searching for her daughter. Monica and Gabe are patient with Ariel and supportive as she figures out her sexual identity.


Ariel and Maya endure verbal, emotional, and physical abuse from their parents. Ariel's dad often loses his temper and is known to get violent when his motives are questioned. He often tells Ariel that she'd be nothing without him or that no one cares about her. A man tries to run a character off the road, resulting in a car crash. There are also several mentions of a dad hitting his kid, her mother, and other women. Boys get in a fistfight after an attempted sexual assault.


Fairly graphic sex scenes as Ariel tries to determine her sexual identity. She loses her virginity to Gabe and also explores sex with Monica. A teen girl gets pregnant by an older man. Talk of oral sex and masturbation. One teen believes that sex with him can cure lesbians.


"F--k," "s--t," "ass," "bitch," "bastard," "p---y," "whore," and more including anti-gay slurs, including "fag" and "dyke."


Brands mentioned include Chevy, Ford, Trojan condoms, Astros, Rockies, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and more.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults and teens drink and smoke. Ariel's dad is often portrayed as drunk or hungover.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written bymovienut2 February 3, 2017

You Dont Have To Know Every You

This was such a disappointing suggestion for common sense media to make. They have let me down many times before, but so far this is the only place I have foun... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byGrace2004 November 2, 2018

A sad part of Reality

I know parents don't want their kids to read this book probably due to the sex scene or maybe too much swearing. But like the teacher in my school say abou... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bySadie Sterk March 1, 2017

accurate, relevent to todays issues and relatable to some

this book was amazing and addressed struggles such as identity, and abuse in a realistic and sensitive way. there were a few sort of descriptive sex scenes but... Continue reading

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?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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