Perfect by Ellen Hopkins
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster
Review copy provided by the publicist
Four high school seniors, four different ideas of what perfection really means. Cara’s parents’ unreasonable expectations have already helped her twin brother end up in an inpatient facility for suicidal teenagers, and in trying to escape from them, she finds love in an unexpected place. Kendra is obsessed with having the perfect body and looks, and she’ll do anything to get there, including starving herself and enduring endless plastic surgeries. Sean is so focused on having a successful baseball career that he’s willing to sacrifice just about everything else in pursuit of that goal. And Andre’s passion, dance, is so opposite to what his parents want for him that he may just lose them if he chooses to shoot for perfection in his area of interest.
I have long been a fan of Ellen Hopkins so I was thrilled when I was offered her latest book to review. In case you aren’t familiar with her work, she writes her YA novels in verse, and this is something she does exceptionally well. She manages to create fully realized characters and draw her readers into the story in many fewer words than one finds in a traditional novel. Because of this, her books are very quick reading (even though they’re pretty long) and difficult to put down. Perfect was no different from her other novels in this regard, and as always, the format worked perfectly for this story.
I felt a connection with these characters immediately. While I related to each of them differently, I could definitely sympathize with each one. Sean was the hardest for me to “get”, as he is a pretty angry teenager prone to violence (something I can never understand) but at the same time, he is a tortured soul who lost both his parents at a young age, so I was able to sympathize with his emotional struggles. Cara was probably the character I connected to on the deepest level, as her perfectionist nature matches the attitude I had as a teenager – I always wanted to get the best grades, I was constantly striving for my parents’ approval, etc. – so her actions, for the most part, made perfect sense to me.
Hopkins chose to explore a lot of “issues” in this novel – suicide, date rape, interracial dating (with racist parents), eating disorders, and more – but somehow it never felt heavy-handed or overdone to me. I will say that there is one particular issue, that of date rape, that comes with quite a triggering scene. I have to say that because while I know that date rape is a real issue teens face, and I appreciate that Hopkins dealt with it in a very real way, it personally felt a little triggery to me, and I would have liked to know that was coming. Just an FYI.
I actually listened to the audiobook of Perfect, and while I was a bit concerned that the impact of a novel in verse wouldn’t be the same in audio, I shouldn’t have worried. The four narrators of the book did an excellent job conveying the importance of each word Hopkins wrote, and the effect was wonderful. In fact, I’m now interested to read more of the audio versions of her books.
Perfect is a great example of young adult that deals with issues teens face in a realistic manner. Add that to the fact that Hopkins’ writing is, as always, fabulous, and this book is a real winner. I would definitely recommend it.