Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

Title: Smoke
Series: Burned (#2)
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: September 10th, 2013
Source: ARC received from publisher for an honest review

Rating: 3.5/5

Pattyn Von Stratten’s father is dead, and Pattyn is on the run. After far too many years of abuse at the hands of her father, and after the tragic loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn is desperate for peace. Only her sister Jackie knows what happened that night, but she is stuck at home with their mother, who clings to normalcy by allowing the truth to be covered up by their domineering community leaders. Her father might be finally gone, but without Pattyn, Jackie is desperately isolated. Alone and in disguise, Pattyn starts a new life, but is it even possible to rebuild a life when everything you’ve known has burned to ash and lies seem far safer than the truth?

I read my first Ellen Hopkins book when I was 14-years-old. At that time, I had just gotten back into reading and had never really picked up a book with such heavy subject matter. It was also my first verse book. And I loved it. The verse was stunning and the story was intense. It was unlike anything I'd ever read and it was so good. I haven't read any Ellen Hopkins' books in recent years, but was looking forward to picking up Smoke. Having read Burned almost six years ago, I was happy to finally get to see how Pattyn's story would come to an end.

This book was one heck of an emotional roller-coaster. Smoke starts off intense and it stays that way until the very last page. The story was thick with tension, and coated in fear, and I kept flipping the pages hoping it would all end okay. Pattyn's journey to find hope and Jackie's quest for growth were captivating. There was a lot going on in this story, especially with the dual plot lines. I'm normally not a fan of sequels that suddenly have dual POVs when the first book was only one. I find it jarring and changes the tone of the store. In the case of Smoke though, I thought it was the perfect avenue to tell the story. We got to see how both Pattyn and Jackie dealt with their father's death and how they coped with the aftermath. It also made Smoke kind of well-rounded. We got to really explore the dynamics of this family and how they both learn to heal in different ways. There were heart-warming moments, heart-breaking ones, and a constant urge to make sure these characters found hope. Because after all they had been through, they deserved a happy ending.   

The only issue I had with Smoke, and really with Hopkins' books in general, is the constant need for something bad to happen. Sometimes, it feels like the events of the book are just there for shock factor; to make something intense and painful happen. Her more recent books, Smoke included, felt forced at times to me. I personally loved the parts that were just about Pattyn and Jackie learning to love, live, and how to move on with their lives after all the horror's they had faced. What I didn't love, and what took away from the story for me, was the knowledge that it wouldn't last and that there would be some big event that changed everything (again).

Although I was a bit skeptical about parts of the plot, Ellen Hopkins is definitely a very talented writer. I'm always amazed by her gorgeous poetry, and how it all seems to flow so well. I often worry that there will be something missing with verse work (description or otherwise), but Ellen Hopkins constantly draws me right into the story and makes me feel like I'm there. I never feel confused or lost (which can happen with such sparse language) and I found the writing really got to the heart of the story. 

Overall, I did enjoy Smoke. It was good to get some closure to Pattyn's story and I think it was the follow up she deserved. I was intrigued the whole way through, and very invested in the characters well being. Smoke was just the book I was hoping it would be.

- Ciara (Lost at Midnight)

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