Review: Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Review: Impulse by Ellen HopkinsImpulse by Ellen Hopkins
Series: Impulse #2
Published by Margaret K. McElderry on May 20, 2008
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 666
Format: Paperback
Source: Gifted
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three-half-stars

Sometimes you don't wake up. But if you happen to, you know things will never be the same.

Three lives, three different paths to the same destination: Aspen Springs, a psychiatric hospital for those who have attempted the ultimate act -- suicide.

Vanessa is beautiful and smart, but her secrets keep her answering the call of the blade.

Tony, after suffering a painful childhood, can only find peace through pills.

And Conner, outwardly, has the perfect life. But dig a little deeper and find a boy who is in constant battle with his parents, his life, himself.

In one instant each of these young people decided enough was enough. They grabbed the blade, the bottle, the gun -- and tried to end it all. Now they have a second chance, and just maybe, with each other's help, they can find their way to a better life -- but only if they're strong and can fight the demons that brought them here in the first place.

Ellen Hopkins is a HUGE name in YA fiction, one I have been studiously avoiding since I first heard of her books back in 2008. At the time, I really started getting into YA, though I’d been reading it idly for a couple of years. I was working at a library and a lot of my work was with the YA section, so I naturally investigated. Ellen Hopkins’ books were extremely popular with the teens, but I wouldn’t touch them because of two things: 1) verse and 2) drug use. Neither of those are Christina things, so I wrote Hopkins’ fiction off and carried on my merry way. Finally, six whole years later, I am branching out and entering the danger zone. And I did not explode with rage or boredom. This is a victory for personal boundary pushing.

Now Impulse was a somewhat safer place to start for my first Hopkins. Common sense would suggest starting with her most popular book, Crank, but drug use is still something I have a lot of difficulty sympathizing with or being interested in reading. Jenni (Xpresso Reads) gifted me a copy and we did a buddy read of Impulse. While this one does involve a fair amount of drug references, it’s much more about mental illness and sexual abuse. As you can tell, it’s a real fluff book.

I’m going to be honest. I still REALLY don’t get verse when it doesn’t have a meter or rhyme. I don’t understand it one bit. Why is it not prose again? I can’t say. So I really can’t say if Hopkins’ poetry is good or not. I have zero way to quantify such things. I do like the way she differentiated each perspective with a different format, though, again, I don’t know if there’s a deeper meaning to it, or if it was just a visual cue about which POV was being read.

Impulse follows three first person points of view: Conner, Tony and Vanessa. All three are in a mental hospital following suicide attempts. There is a lot that I really like about the cast and the setting here. First, off, let’s talk about the mental hospital. I’ve actually read a lot of YA with mental hospitals, but they’re all absurdly not realistic. While I don’t know how they really work, this seems a lot more believable. It’s not exactly a nice place, but it’s also actually trying to help, succeeding with some and not with others. There’s no demonization or idealization of the system here, which is a nice change.

The three main characters are all from different walks of life, which is again unique. Conner’s from a life of great privilege, a golden boy. Tony’s lived on the streets, been in and out of lock up, and been prostituting himself for drugs basically. He’s also gay. Vanessa’s more middle class. I like how this shows that mental illness can affect anyone. Conner’s dialog is often a bit dated, in the sense that he sounds like a smarmy old man of at least 60, so I didn’t much care for his character, but the other two were more compelling. Tony, especially.

For the most part, I love the treatment of sexuality in Impulse, although obviously things get dark and creepy. Tony’s character is fascinating, and I like the way he’s used to highlight the fact that sexual attraction isn’t simple and that people don’t need to be labeled and stuck in boxes. I feel like the actual romance of the book is too corny and sudden, however. Perhaps in order to make everything else in the book so dark, Hopkins needed a happy ending with the romance to balance it out.

Despite not understand poetry at all, a personal failing, I will definitely be reading more Ellen Hopkins. She tackles really dark subject matter frankly and without getting too sensationalistic about it.

Favorite Quote:

My happiest memories
have no place in the
past; they are those
I have yet to create.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

There are no joy balls here either, but it's worth it.

There are no joy balls here either, but it’s worth it.

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