BOOK REVIEW: 'Smoke': Continuation of Ellen Hopkins Best-Selling Y.A. Novel 'Burned': What Happens to Pattyn Von Stratten and Her Family

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Young adult fans of Ellen Hopkins -- and there are millions -- who read her novel in verse "Burned" (2006) will finally discover the fates of Pattyn and Jackie Von Stratten of northern Nevada in the follow-up novel "Smoke" (Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster,  560 pages, $19.99).  
I haven't read "Burned" so I have to rely on the publisher's description:

 

BOOK REVIEW: 'Smoke': Continuation of Ellen Hopkins Best-Selling Y.A. Novel 'Burned': What Happens to Pattyn Von Stratten and Her Family

  "Pattyn is seventeen years old and is the oldest of seven girls in a  Mormon household. Her father is an alcoholic who beats her mother, believing a wife must succumb to her husband's actions. Her mother believes her duty is to make as many children as possible, especially a boy to carry on the family name, just as her husband wishes.

"But Pattyn's mother only conceived seven girls, named after famous generals: (youngest to oldest) Georgia (George Patton), Roberta (Robert E. Lee), Davie (Jefferson Davis), Teddie (Theodore Roosevelt), Ulyssa (Ulysses S. Grant), Jackie (Jack Pershing), and Pattyn (George Patton). It is hinted that Pattyn deeply disagrees with the strict Mormon lifestyle she's lived throughout her childhood, as well as the expectations that will be held of her as a woman according to her Mormon community, and wishes to break free and gain the freedom to become her own person with her own take on life. She appears to also hold a resentment of her alcoholic father and oppressed, submissive mother, and having to care for her six younger sisters during their father's alcohol-induced rages."

 Last year was a busy one for me: I reviewed three of the Carson City, Nev.-based author's novels, also in verse. Here's a link to my Nov. 25, 2012 review of "Collateral," which  includes links to my reviews of her novels in verse:  adult "Triangles" and Young Adult  "Tilt" http://www.huntingtonnews.net/50044

 Pattyn and Jackie and the entire family have been terrorized for years by their alcoholic father, Stephen Paul Von Stratten,  and his death doesn't stop the terror. Pattyn flees to California from Nevada and secures a job as maid for Craig and Diane Jorgensen, who "own five hundred prime California acres, many of them growing walnuts, plus peaches and cherries." She gains a friend and ally in Angel, a  Mexican-American farm worker on the Jorgensen spread to whom she tells an invented story of why she's on the run.

 Meanwhile back in Nevada, her younger sister Jackie, a high school sophomore, has to deal with the fallout from the death of her father, including the disapproval of the Mormon community. She's a pariah. They move out of their old house and into a newer, larger one, but memories don't die as easily as people. And the memories aren't confined to the shed where death came for the head of the Von Patten family.

 About that use of Mormons as enabling dysfunction:  Hopkins was slammed by a Jewish novelist and stage/film/television writer, Jeff Gottesfeld, who criticized  "Burned" for its portrayal of Mormonism as a "stern, abusive and misogynistic faith". Gottesfeld characterized the book in an op-ed piece as "literary group character assassination" of Mormonism, and that the church is "unrelentingly bashed" in the novel. Link to his op-ed in the Deseret News of Salt Lake City -- full disclosure: owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (L.D.S): 

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/635207673/LDS-faith-unfairly-Burned-in-novel.html  

I'm sure that Gottesfeld and other critics will do the same with "Smoke," which is more of a continuation of "Burned" than a sequel. He and others who say Hopkins unfairly picks on the paternalistic religion (aren't they all??) probably won't be satisfied as Hopkins (spoiler alert) shows the LDS folk in this novel softening their stand toward Jackie somewhat when they learn of the pure evil of Stephen Paul Von Stratten. 

Here's how he is described early in the novel by Pattyn: "The bastard who beat my mother. Beat my sister [Jackie]. Beat me. The son of a bitch who was responsible for the accident that claimed my Ethan...."

Kudos to Hopkins for getting teens to read books; this novel -- like the above cited adult novels -- can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. I enjoyed it and the use of verse only enhanced the novel. (But I'm an English major, not easily frightened by verse!)  

 Hopkins covers a lot of dysfunction in the book, including, but not limited to:  bullying of gays and lesbians, mistreatment of migrant workers, and the radical militia movement that attracts Deirdre,  the sullen teen-age daughter of the Jorgensens and --- of course -- the kind of physical and mental violence that Hopkins herself endured.


Ellen Hopkins
Ellen Hopkins


About the Author
  Ellen Louise Hopkins (born March 26, 1955) is a novelist who has published several New York Timesbestselling novels that are popular among the teenage and young adult audience 

Hopkins began her writing career in 1990. She started with nonfiction books for children, including Air Devilsand Orcas: High Seas Supermen.

Hopkins has since written several verse novels exposing teenage struggles such as drug addiction, mental illness,and prostitution.

  Here's how Hopkins describes herself on Amazon.com:

"I was adopted at birth and raised by a great, loving older couple. I grew up in Palm Springs CA, although we summered in Napa and Lake Tahoe, to avoid those 120 degree summers. After my adopted parents died, I did find my birth mother, who lives in Michigan with my half sister.

"I studied journalism in college, but left school to marry, raise kids and start my own business--a video store, before the mega-chains were out there. After a divorce, I met my current husband and we moved to Tahoe to become ski bums and otherwise try to find our dreams. At that time, I went to work for a small alternative press, writing stories and eventually editing.

"When we moved down the mountain to the Reno area, I started writing nonfiction books....  I also continued to freelance articles for newspapers and magazines.

"All that ... changed, with the publication of my novel, "Crank", which has led to a valued career writing YA novels in verse, all of which explore the more difficult situations young adults often find themselves in. Will I ever write one in prose? No doubt! But, for the moment, writing novels in verse fulfills two needs: writing poetry and writing fiction. The combination is so interesting!"

Her website: www.EllenHopkins.com

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