New York Times best-selling author Ellen Hopkins focuses on drugs, suicide, rape and other issues teens face to weave together a nontraditional book that shines as a testament to
living outside societal norms.
Hopkins mixes traditional creative writing with free-form poetry in “Perfect,” her newest book that details the intertwined fictional lives of four teenagers in Nevada. The typical high school students share their struggles with issues that afflict modern youth in chapters that alternate between narrators. Hopkins presents a challenge to society’s demand for perfection by revealing the darker side of early-adult success.
“Perfect” is written in the style Hopkins describes as a prose novel, as she structures her verses on the page in creative ways meant to stimulate the visual nature of the narrative. Words are strategically placed to form patters that symbolize the frantic state of a character’s mind. When one character falls to rock bottom, Hopkins stacks words on top of each other and the sentences look like a staircase down the page, signaling an emotional descent.
Her free-verse writing includes plot development and character narration, but is executed in a poetic form that provides more emotion and impact than a regular page setup. The characters’ states of mind are easily decoded by examining the page form. One teen, Kendra, describes her disappointment when people only see her outer beauty. Kendra’s story is written in prose that is printed in a column of text on the left side of the page. But next to the strip, Hopkins includes a list of single words that reveal another message — “pretty isn’t good enough.”
Hopkins sticks to some of the traditional subjects, such as addiction and suicide, that she’s covered in past books like “Crank” and “Impulse,” but also modernizes her work with issues like teen plastic surgery. Kendra struggles with anorexia, and Hopkins makes her journey resonate with the audience by including a list of real-life statistics about teen eating disorders. According to the book, 10 million women suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. alone, girls as young as 11 suffer with anorexia and at least 1,000 people die each year from the eating disorder. The statistics make the character’s struggle seem urgent in a society in which so many people are affected by negative body images.
Hopkins’ first chapters feature Cara, a
Stanford-bound cheerleader who is forced to present the perfect façade with a model boyfriend. Cara’s illusion vanishes as she confronts her true self and admits she is a lesbian. Hopkins makes Cara’s character relatable by keeping her parent’s reaction consistent to their distant and cold parenting style. In the scene where Cara finally does come out to her parents, they reject her confession and brush it aside as a phase, forcing her to keep her newfound identity hidden. Immediately after she comes out, Cara’s family faces
another crisis, and Hopkins ends the storyline about her sexuality. The narrative of Cara’s life, though clichéd at times, could have provided readers with a story about overcoming the challenges of living with distant and unsupportive parents, but ends too quickly and seems unfinished.
Hopkins pens an inspiring author’s note at the end of the novel. She argues that perfection is a ridiculous goal, simply because it doesn’t
exist. She implores readers to ignore the media messages bombarding them every day telling them they’re not good enough, thin enough or smart enough. Despite its flaws, “Perfect” serves as a compelling read that captures the emotional
issues afflicting teens today and offers comfort for real-life youth.