Hopkins, Ellen. Identical. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008. 565 pages. Tr. $15.34, ISBN: 978-1-41695-005-9
Plot: Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical twins with some serious problems at home. Their father, an important district court judge, has been left alone while their mother is off campaigning for political office. Kaeleigh becomes his focus, and she is the subject of his unwanted, often twisted, affection. Raeanne is witness to her father’s strange behavior, and she feels neglected as he completely ignores her. The girls are falling into terrible habits in order to cope with their loneliness and emotional pain; Kaeleigh begins cutting herself, bingeing and purging while Raeanne abuses drugs, alcohol, and falls into dangerous sexual behaviors. The behaviors are their ways to cope and control their situation, but they understand that they are only making things worse for them. Their alcoholic, abusive father is a menacing figure throughout the book. Both girls career toward an inevitable breakdown that is going to reveal even more bizarre truths.
Critical Evaluation: A gripping yet difficult book. Hopkins uses the free verse style that has become her trademark to hallucinogenic effect in this book to capture the oceanic depths of the girls’ pain and confusion. The darkness of this book is so intense that it can be extremely painful to read, but the characters pull readers through. Because they feel so real, and because they are expressing their feelings about what they are doing and they are so aware that these are destructive coping mechanisms, readers will care about what happens to them. Raeanne feels more fleshed out as a character than Kaeleigh, perhaps because the latter is focused on gaining approval and Raeanne acts out in more visceral ways. The fact that the two are hiding their secrets and that the family, from the outside, makes the way that they deal with their problems believable. Raeanne’s increasingly more outward behavior threatens to topple the image of the perfect family that the parents have worked so hard to keep up. The secrets become the festering wound of the family – the only way to heal them would be to expose them, a dangerous gambit for the girls. With this book Hopkins proves herself to be the master of hypnotic fiction about kids in peril. Her trick? She creates characters that jump off the page.
Author bio: After being adopted by older parents, Ellen Hopkins grew up in Palm Springs and the Santa Ynez Valley, in California. She went to U.C., Santa Barbara, studying journalism, until she dropped out to raise a family and start a business. The marriage fell apart and she closed the business when she met her new husband. She began a writing career after that new start.
She has three biological children, and she has adopted Orion, her grandson. Hopkins’ book, Crank, was inspired by watching her own daughter in the throes of her addiction to crystal methamphetamine, a drug which ripped her daughter’s life apart. There were two follow-up books in the series, Glass and Fallout. Hopkins’ specializes in writing about kids in trouble – drugs, self-mutilation, abuse – from their perspective, all in a her signature verse poetry style, which gives her work an immediate, occasionally hallucinogenic feeling.
Genre: Realistic fiction.
Curriculum Ties: Health, Psychology
Booktalking Ideas: As with Impulse, focus on the characters and their distinct voices. Read a section aloud.
Focus on the idea of a dysfunctional family that looks perfect to outsiders.
Note that the end is a shocking, but don’t give away anything about the ending.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 9th grade and up
Challenge Issues: Drugs, sexual abuse, sexual situations.
Challenge Response: Ellen Hopkins books have been challenged frequently. Listen carefully to the challenge. Emphasize that this is a book about healing and getting over problems. Cite the positive reviews. Keep a file of positive reviews on hand and know the content of the book well. Note that the book is on the ALA’s list of “Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers.”
Why Included: Teens really love these books and they talk about them a lot. They are especially good for kids who don’t like to read.