Saturday, October 12, 2013

Cover-to-Cover Commuting: Burned, and Smoke, by Ellen Hopkins

I had intended to review these two books during Banned Books Week, or shortly thereafter.  It's now two weeks later.  Good heavens, I hope my readers don't actually expect me to be timely, or if you do, you forgive me.  I'm a library director, and I have a second library job.  Both jobs are a lot of work, and consume a lot of time and energy.  Much as I'd love to blog more regularly, that's not going to happen.

Librarians are like teachers.  Overworked and underpaid.

 Enough of that, though.  Let me tell you about these audiobooks!  Burned was published in 2006, while its sequel, Smoke, came out last month.

Checkouts: Both owned in print and audio format at the small public library
Typical reader: Teens, fans of the author
Source: Burned was interlibrary loaned; Smoke was cataloged and checked out to me the day it arrived, hehe

Synopses: In Burned, Pattyn von Stratten is the eldest daughter in a fundamentalist home with an abusive father and useless mother.  Enraged by her really fairly typical teen actions, her father sends her away to his sister's ranch in rural Nevada.  There, she finds happiness and hope - which she must leave when the school year begins.  Smoke picks up not long after the cliffhanger ending of Burned, with Pattyn on the run and her sister Jackie picking up the pieces of their lives.  Can they rebuild, despite the lies and pain?

My Goodreads ratings: 5 stars for Burned, 4 stars for Smoke

Pattyn (named for General Patton; her father named all his children for generals) is likely the sweetest protagonist you could possibly find in one of Ms. Hopkins' novels.  The poor girl has a rough life, though, with a father who rules with an iron fist - which he often uses against his wife - and a fundamentalist church that looks the other way when its women need help.

When Pattyn gets into trouble with her father and at school due to a boy, she is shipped off to live with an aunt who has a ranch in rural Nevada.  This is meant as punishment, but it turns out to be the exact opposite.  There, she learns how it feels to be loved, both by her kind aunt and by a nice neighbor boy.  Love is a double-edged sword, however, which she learns when she returns home to face reality.  And man, can the consequences of love be disastrous.

The second book is narrated by both Pattyn and her sister, Jackie.  Pattyn is on the run after a horrific series of events, and tries to rebuild her life posing as an illegal immigrant worker to become a nanny on a rural Californian ranch.  (And that didn't come across as ridiculously in the book as it does when I type it.)  Meanwhile, Jackie has her own demons to face, and must help her mother and sisters cope with all that's happened.  It's a lot for a young teen girl.

Smoke is different from any other novel by Ms. Hopkins that I've read.  It's filled with so much hope.  Fans may find themselves torn between grabbing onto that hope and expecting everything to turn out okay for Pattyn and Jackie, and being cynical and waiting for it to all come crashing down, especially for Pattyn in her new life.  Can there be a happy ending?