Three teens, sharing only the wish to end it all, meet after their failed suicide attempts in Aspen Springs, a psychiatric hospital. Each has their own story: Tony can only find his peace in pills after a hellish childhood, Vanessa who has to cut so her secrets don’t tear her apart, and Connor, the picture of perfect who hides an inner turmoil. Together they will fight to forge ahead and write a brighter chapter in their lives.
Ellen Hopkins has a very distinctive style. Her books deal with young people coping with very real issues in a heart-wrenching way, all in free verse poetry. Impulse is no exception as we are presented with issues such as teen suicide, sexuality, and what family means. This is all done with no holds barred, nothing off limits and no sugar coating. Due to this honest and gritty approach, I felt that Hopkins showed a huge amount of respect to both the subject matter, and the audience. Unfortunately, many people have far more negative reactions to this, which I will touch upon later.
Before I can talk about Impulse in any detail, I think the free verse poetry needs to be discussed.
Personally, I’m not a poetry fan. To me, it often just comes across as obfuscating a simple idea. While that’s completely inaccurate (don’t kill me poetry lovers), it is my interpretation of it more often than not. However, due to the nature of the poems here, I didn’t get that impression.
I’m struggling to find a way to best explain myself here. The best I can do is this: When I have listened to an Ellen Hopkins audio book ,I honestly couldn’t tell that it was poetry. It was the same when I read some of Impulse out loud to my grandmother. You don’t have the stereotypical rhyming, or very obvious and forced structures, so when listening, you can only tell it’s poetry due to more, get ready for this, poetic description. There’s a sense of a different style, but I don’t think most people would conclude that it is poetry.
Due to this difference, I think that both people who enjoy poetry and those that don’t can get into the story. The only real effect it has is that every word says more. It’s like taking a normal novel, cutting the needless words out, making sure every word has the weight of a hundred, and then adding unique voice over it all. Can anyone say that’s a bad idea? I can’t.
The poetry may not be for everyone, but I’d advise everyone to at least try it. It doesn’t define the experience, but it definitely doesn’t hurt it.
What could’ve hurt the book though is one of the main mechanics of the story, drip feeding information. Throughout Impulse, we slowly learn about the three main characters’ pasts. The information is given in these perfectly timed spoonfuls, the amounts calculated to perfection. If this wasn’t done so intelligently, if it was the only thing the plot had to offer, or if the characters weren’t interesting, it would have been a huge black mark against the book. As it stands, it was a little irritating but ultimately done really well and added to the experience.
Going back to the characters, they really were something else. Since Ellen Hopkins’s style lends itself to strong character voice, her characters possess a very strong sense of individuality and realism. I felt I could one day meet people like this. Directly because of that, I found myself being interested in and caring about all three main characters, an essential element for a character-driven story such as this.
The fact that I cared about the characters makes it that much harder for me to understand why people want this book, and other books by Ellen Hopkins, banned. It is true that Ellen Hopkins has a tendency to push the boundaries of standard YA literature, with drugs and sex often times playing key roles in the plot, but that doesn’t mean they should be banned. If Impulse were to rely solely on shock value to carry it, I could perhaps be lenient. Thing is, NONE of Hopkins’s novels use sex or drugs as a crutch, instead they rely on great characters and heart-breaking plots. By banning these books, the struggles that real people go through are diminished while the chance for people to learn about these issues is all but denied.
Yes, these books aren’t for everyone, but does that mean they aren’t for anyone. Can we please stop looking at things in such a black and white way, a way where subtlety has no chance of existing? We lose so much if we look at things and can only say “yay” or “nay.” By denying them access to these books, you are denying them information that can be infinitely useful in their lives. Ignorance does not fix problems, it creates them.
If you are still interested in banned books, look forward to a series I am doing on the subject. Hopefully, that will happen soon. Now, back to the subject at hand, whether Impulse is any good.
Once a book gets good enough, it’s hard to objectively find what it can improve upon or what it does wrong. With Impulse that’s where I am. Even those improvements can only be mentioned in vague ways. I wish it had the emotional impact of other Ellen Hopkins novels, but that’s pretty subjective, isn’t it? And at this point, isn’t it just enough to say that it’s a very good book?
Impulse is an emotionally powerful story that charges ahead on the strength of its characters. Real issues were presented boldly, but respect was maintained, both towards the issues within the book and the audience. If you’re interested in a character-driven novel, then I’d advise you to look at Impulse and any other book by Ellen Hopkins.