Since writing the below review and reading more of Hopkins' stuff, I changed my mind a little. The way she deals with gay characters rubs me the wrong way. It's a little bit "holier than thou, but who am I to judge you." She kind of furthers the message in this book that being gay is a sort of perversion brought on by sexual abuse--like being gay isn't a real thing and gay people need help. She doesn't come right out and say this, she more "shows" it. I think she probably thinks of herself as pretty open-minded about gay stuff which is at least good
Anyway, here's the review I wrote before, I still do stand behind it mostly, I'm just starting to question the values she brings to her writing a little.
Oh my god, Ellen Hopkins' books definitely are not what I would call cheerful. At the same time, though, and I can't put my finger on why, they are not as depressing as I would expect considering the grim subject matter.
This book was all kinds of good. It is written in verse and follows 3 point of view characters, Connor, Vanessa and Tony, as they go through an in-patient treatment program after each trying unsuccessfully to kill themselves. The three develop a close friendship and grow together as they try to heal from the pasts that drove them to attempt suicide.
Vanessa is bipolar and has been raised by a mother who is bipolar and schizophrenic and a father in the military who has never been there. Tony is a gay kid who spent his childhood living with his neglectful, addicted mother, in juvie, doing survival sex work on the streets and briefly living with Phillip, the one person who actually loved Tony, before Phillip dies of AIDS. Connor lives with two wealthy parents who show him no affection and have unreasonably high expectations of him and a twin sister he is constantly compared to. First impressions of all three characters are shattered as the story progresses.
One thing I really liked about this story is that Hopkins doesn't feel the need to over-dramatically spill all of the characters' sordid secrets to the audience. Of course, a good deal of what's behind each of their lives is shared in the story, but never in an indulgent sort of way and never more than needs to be shared for the purpose of telling the story--in other words, she used the story as a way to connect with the characters and grow with them, not as a voyeuristic gaze into their lives.
Of course, strong and complex portrayals of people involved in/affected by sex work in teen literature always get point in my book, and although it was not the focus of the story, I really enjoyed what those experiences brought to Tony's character and am very excited to read Tricks, Hopkins' novel which centers around 5 kids in the sex industry.
One critique, though: I listened to the audiobook and had a lot of trouble distinguishing between Tony and Connor's voices. This made things a little confusing when I spent all this time trying to find out who was saying what.