Page Count: 543.
Published: September 10, 2013
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Source: Received ARC from publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Pattyn Von Stratten’s father is dead, and Pattyn is on the run. After far too many years of abuse at the hands of her father, and after the tragic loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn is desperate for peace. Only her sister Jackie knows what happened that night, but she is stuck at home with their mother, who clings to normalcy by allowing the truth to be covered up by their domineering community leaders. Her father might be finally gone, but without Pattyn, Jackie is desperately isolated. Alone and in disguise, Pattyn starts a new life, but is it even possible to rebuild a life when everything you’ve known has burned to ash and lies seem far safer than the truth?
Ellen Hopkins never fails to impress me. Having read every single one of her YA novels, I know to expect harsh realities and painful circumstances written out in beautiful verse. Smoke is absolutely that, as well as a story about forgiveness, healing, and moving forward in life after tragedy. Ellen has said that she wrote this novel because readers of Burned begged for closure for Pattyn. With Smoke, she not only delivers on that but also gives Pattyn's younger sister, Jackie, a voice and some closure of her own. It is a wonderful novel and well handled sequel.
Pattyn and Jackie are given a lot of room to grow and mature in Smoke, which is something they desperately needed after Burned. I really appreciated the way both characters developed because it felt very natural to who I imagined them to be. As Pattyn runs away from everything she's ever known, she continues to show signs of the good person she always has been but learns to overcome some of the issues she's grown up with and had ingrained in her thanks first to her household environment and then to the tragic events in Burned. The story I truly connected with in Smoke, though, was Jackie's. Jackie stepping into a role as a second narrator really allowed her story to be given the credit it deserved. Pattyn leaving the household in Burned resulted in Jackie having to take her place as head caregiver of their younger siblings, which came with the added role of punching bag for their father. Even after the dramatic events at the beginning of Smoke, Jackie was put through a lot. She dealt with a sexual assault and was forced to keep silent about it for her church. The way she matures and the lessons she learns reveal an inner strength that all girls need to know they possess. I think Jackie's story was more relatable for me so it spoke to me on that extra level to give the book as a whole a stronger impact.
Hopkins does not shy away from difficult issues in any of her books, and clearly Smoke is no exception. It deals with sexual assault, religion, abuse, homosexuality, home-grown terrorism, and foreign and illegal workers, among other things. It is clearly a very heavy book, but Hopkins has developed such a way of handling these issues so that while her characters struggle immensely with them, she personally does not cast judgement where it would seem unfair for her to cast it (in the case of abuse or sexual assault, of course, that is a different matter, and her author's notes tend to reflect that). Her books provide reason for discussion on these many topics rather than a strict dictation of right or wrong.
One thing that always makes Hopkins' books stand out is her use of verse. Her expertly crafted poems and use of word placement on the page to create multiple messages never fails to impress me. It is very easy, in my opinion, for verse novels to become cheesy or melodramatic due to the format, but Hopkins always delivers gritty honesty, even when using more artistic metaphors to get the characters' feelings across. While I have always been impressed by her writing and consider it, for the most part, some of the most authentic and relatable verse out there, I think she just continues to grow stronger as a writer, as evidenced by her work in Smoke.
Overall, I was very impressed by Smoke. Although it doesn't quite live up to its predecessor, Burned, I don't think that any book truly could. Smoke, then, is probably the best sequel Hopkins could have written to give Pattyn and Jackie the voices and closure they so deserved.