Friday, December 31, 2010

Build G-d, Then We'll Talk

Recommended listening: Build G-d, Then We'll Talk by Panic! At the Disco

*warning: The above video and the below book would likely be rated R. Although their content may be disturbing, such inappropriate elements contribute to their content and meaning.

What I've been up to...
One of the joys of time off from school is getting the chance to do things purely for leisurely purposes, rather than for class or college. The first week of winter break I had the privilege of going to Mexico with my family. While my brothers played cards and enjoyed some of the nightlife, I spent most of my time reading. I relish vacations because there are few things in life as magnificent as relaxing at the beach and being totally consumed by a good book. This trip I finished two novels, Tricks by Ellen Hopkins and Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah, and I'm still reading Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
While I highly recommend all of these titles, the book I would like to focus on for this post is Tricks. In the spirit of an honest review, I will certainly try my best to be as objective as possible. However, you should be warned that Ellen Hopkins is my favorite author of all time.

At any rate, Tricks is written in verse, as are all of her books. I am a huge fan of poetry, I've always loved both reading and writing, but I firmly believe that even those who deem themselves as poetry illiterate or claim to dislike anything other than prose will find that Hopkins has a unique, gripping style.

This specific book is Hopkins' take on the staggering amount of teen prostitution in the United States.

The book is narrated in third person and follows the lives of five teenagers whose paths eventually cross, and the role "tricks" play in their lives. One of the greatest strengths in this book is the authenticity of all five main characters. Their voices are each so genuine and unique. Although each of them is somehow touched by the issue of turning tricks, their perspectives still differ.
For example, Ginger's mother is a prostitute. Therefore, when faced with the problem of teen prostitution in her own life, Ginger is avidly opposed to it and completely disgusted with those who subject themselves to such a life.
By contrast, there is Cody who is a nice, "All-American" kid -- someone who never thought twice about the world of tricks. I don't want to spoil the book, but let me just say that he does far more than a 180 and where he ends up is both surprising and haunting.
As someone who focuses a lot on identity, it was very interesting to realize how many different traits the characters had and how their perspectives were shaped by their personal varying experiences.

Outside of compelling characters, I appreciate Hopkins' work in this book because she is able to bring an issue to life. She makes her commentary by giving multiple angles on the issue, and giving it depth. She doesn't pretend anything is black and white or simple. The depth of the characters and their struggles puts the reader in a position where they are both perplexed and compelled to address it. In many ways, this book is downright disturbing. The world I fell into while reading was ugly and difficult to comprehend, but Hopkins made me really understand and empathize with a lot of what is going on as we speak. Although the book is a work of fiction, unfortunately none of the stories are far-fetched whatsoever. The statistics are staggering, and if for no other reason, I believe people should read this book in order to get a glimpse into the hell that is daily life for so many teens right here at home.

The ending.
That's exactly what it was like, it just ended. I should have realized that around page 600 the end wasn't far away, but I read the final poem over and over, in complete disbelief. Although I was disappointed with the lack of resolution and the plethora of questions I still had, I have no doubt that this was an intentional move. I wasn't expecting a happy, cookie-cutter ending, but the fact that I knew hardly anything about where the characters were heading and what was coming next in their lives was unsettling. I believe this was Hopkins' goal though. Like the ending, the problem of teen prostitution hasn't necessarily been answered yet. And, like the characters, those truly struggling don't know what tomorrow holds.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed this book. It isn't my favorite Hopkins piece, (for that I would recommend Identical) but I certainly was not disappointed. I appreciated this novel because the verse was spot-on, the concept was riveting, and the characters had depth and beauty. As someone who likes to focus and question identity, the characters definitely didn't let me down!
*This is also a great review I would recommend checking out if you'd like an opinion other than just my own.

Sooner or later someone you could not have ever dreamed of appears like a rainbow, bridging clouds, and steals your breath away. Someone beautiful, inside and out, grabs hold of your hand, guides you along a rarely traveled road, to a place where your broken heart can be mended, pieceby beating piece. The cost, gratefully afforded, is only your love. 
Tricks, Ellen Hopkins


  1. Quality Post Jamie!
    This sounds like a very cool book. I am one of those people who considers themselves to be sorta poetry illiterate. So, I am not entirely sure how much I would enjoy this one, but I think I should give her verse writing style a chance. I have heard of Crank and I have always wanted to check it out. And the fact that Hopkins is your favorite author, makes me want to check out her material even more. Thanks for introducing her to me!

  2. Ah just wanted to say that I love that book! All of Ellen Hopkin's stuff is so good.

  3. Hope you enjoy and learn from Flow! It's a truly amazing and unique state of mind that I haven't experienced in far too long.

  4. Hi Jamie!
    This post is awesome and has really convinced me to check this out. I've read Crank and Impulse and adore both of those, and I didn't know she wrote another book. Thanks for alerting us to a good read :)

  5. Sounds like a really interesting book, Jamie! I know we have similar taste in books so after I finish the last one I stole from you I might have to grab this one :] I like the way you divided up your review into sections, it was easy to follow. Great work!

  6. This sounds like an incredible book. The depth and intensity that she takes these issues to is riveting and inspiring. Authors who are willing to take on such issues should be admired for their courage and attention to reality. Great job!

  7. I'm also a little bit of Nick's brand, IE poetry illiterate. Do you think this would be a good first read for someone like us, or is there something else that you might recommend?

  8. Great post as usual! As you know, my topic for the history paper we're writing deals with the rights of sex workers, mainly those who chose this profession rather than being forced into it. From what I've read, there are many obstacles to improving the lives of sex workers, chiefly that prostitution is illegal in the US. Even more problematic, though, is "social stigmatization". Basically, the more people view prostitutes as unsavory or strange, the less we care when their rights are violated. I really enjoyed your review of this book, which hopefully can serve to humanize sex workers and familiarize the reader with their difficult circumstances.

  9. Jamie,

    As others have said, based on your review, this books sounds really intriguing! I've read part of one of Ellen Hopkins' books, and I was also a fan of her unique, poetic style. I love that you included a video and quote. Also, I might have said this about one of your previous posts, but I really like the way you divide many of your posts into subcategories. It's not only more visually appealing in my opinion, but it really helps organize and communicate your thoughts. Great post!

  10. Sounds like a very interesting, dark, and eye opening book! I am always up for a good read, but whenever I read a book the characters lives and actions either put me in a good mood or sad mood. So maybe I will have to read this when I have time to be really get into this book, because your review made it sound like a book you will always remember!

    Nice job :)

  11. Thank you everyone for your comments! I really appreciate the feedback, and I'm glad you're appreciating the formatting. I'll be sure to keep it up!

    Jon -- As for what I would recommend to start off on poetry, I actually think Hopkins would be really nice! Her books show the versatility of poetry and they are written in free verse, so you don't need a ton of background or experience with poetry to get her style. :)