BOOK REVIEW: 'Rumble': Ellen Hopkins Returns with Young Adult Novel in Verse That Lays Bare Virtually Every form of Social Problem, Family Dysfunction

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

If there's a social problem or addiction that isn't dealt with in "Rumble" ( Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster's Children's Publishing Division, 560 pages, $19.99), Ellen Hopkins' young adult novel set in the greater Eugene, Oregon area, I was hard pressed to find it.


Hopkins -- the New York Times' bestselling author of "Crank" and "Smoke" and several other Y.A. titles -- focuses on the Turner family, specifically Matthew "Matt" Turner, an 18-year-old high school senior in Cottage Grove, OR,  who's still grieving over the suicide of his younger brother Luke.

 BOOK REVIEW: 'Rumble': Ellen Hopkins Returns with Young Adult Novel in Verse That Lays Bare Virtually Every form of Social Problem, Family Dysfunction


Luke, a standout freshman basketball player and sweet kid who idolized Matt, hanged himself after being outed as gay on social media and was subsequently bullied by his high school classmates (don't get me started on the horrors caused by the improper use of Facebook, Twitter and all the other electronic forms of poisoning the air! And don't get me started on the inherent meanness of many teens!)

Matt's dad, Wyatt Turner, was a standout basketball player for the University of Oregon (the "Ducks") and now teaches science and coaches the basketball teams. Matt believes his dad's homophobic comments contributed to Luke's suicide, but he blames his former best friend Vince for posting the photoshopped pictures that outed Luke.

Matt's atheism has become public with an essay he wrote for an English class that has gone viral. Even his therapist has a copy of an essay Matt believed to be private. In the document  he  writes that Luke's death proves that there is no God: “There is no God, no benevolent ruler of the earth, no omnipotent grand poobah of countless universes. Because if there little brother would still be fishing or playing basketball instead of fertilizing cemetery vegetation.”

Despite his lack of belief in a higher power,  Matt is in love with a believing Christian classmate, Hayden. He's also attracted to Hayden's former best friend Alexa. Matt discovers that his disintegrating family is even more dysfunctional that he thought, with his dad having an affair with the woman he was in love with before he met and impregnated Matt's and Luke's mom. His mom, a real estate agent, is clearly an alcoholic, as is his dad. Matt's uncle,  Middle East war veteran Jessie Turner, who operates a gun range, has a veteran customer who suffers from PTSD. This customer, Gus, plays a pivotal role in the novel.

Everybody tells Matt to let go, to put the death of his beloved little brother behind him, to pick up the threads of his life. But it's easier said than done for the troubled teen.

While "Rumble" is squarely aimed at Y.A. readers, I believe adults -- particularly parents of teens -- can benefit from reading it. Hopkins has the understanding of a therapist and the skill of a bestselling writer to put issues before readers. She's a baby boomer, but she thoroughly understands the younger demographic groups. Plus, the book is a page turner! Don't let the big page count scare you: Hopkins keeps the narrative moving quickly.



Ellen Hopkins
Ellen Hopkins

About the Author 

  Ellen Louise Hopkins (born March 26, 1955) is a novelist who has published several New York Times bestselling novels that are popular among the teenage and young adult audiences. Hopkins began her writing career in 1990. She started with nonfiction books for children, including Air Devils and Orcas: High Seas Supermen. Hopkins has since written several verse novels exposing teenage struggles such as drug addiction, mental illness,and prostitution. She has also written novels in verse for adults, including "Collateral" and "Triangles." Her next adult novel, "Tangled," is slated for Spring 2015 publication.

Her website:

For my review of "Smoke":

For my review of her adult novel, "Collateral":

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