TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Ellen Hopkins is the bestselling author of such novels in verse as "Crank" and "Glass." If you're confused by the term "novel in verse," think of it as a story written as a series of poems. Probably my favorite teen verse novel is Virginia Euwer Wolff's brilliant "Make Lemonade," but there are literally tons of other choices, including "Hard Hit" (baseball and grief), "Shark Girl" (a surfer girl's survival after amputation), and "Sold" (a Nepalese girl sold into sexual slavery in India, reviewed here).
"Burned" is the first Ellen Hopkins novel I've read, and I have to admit to being pretty disappointed. While her talent in constructing and crafting the individual poems is breathtaking — truly, some of these poems are works of art — the overall story is unconvincing and, I hate to say it, melodramatic.
As the story begins, high school junior Pattyn is living in a fundamentalist Mormon household with her abusive, alcoholic father, a lazy, beaten-down mom, and six younger sisters. Pattyn is burdened with the responsibilities of her church and family, so she's as startled as anyone when she starts dreaming and fantasizing about a hot classmate, Justin. Quicker than you can blink, our girl — originally portrayed as a free thinker, but one who is shy and bookish — is swilling tequila in the desert, fooling around with Justin's friend Derek, and getting violent at school. After her half-crazed father learns of Pattyn's antics, he ships her off to rural eastern Nevada to spend a summer with his estranged sister Jeanette.
Now, if you're like me, you might wonder why Pattyn's dad would set her loose with his unconventional, independent sister — a sister he disowned years before — just as Pattyn is questioning church doctrine and acting out in increasingly destructive ways. Yeah, doesn't make much sense, right? Hrm. Next thing you know, Pattyn meets another hottie — college sophomore and cowboy Ethan — and they soon fall crazy in love, complete with naked swims and passion and the whole deal. Because this story is exactly as cheesy as you might suspect, Pattyn gets pregnant (because a college veterinary student has never heard of the morning-after pill? shame!), returns home to Carson City, and then desperately tries to run off with Ethan, all with disastrous consequences. Be thankful I haven't mentioned Aunt Jeanette's background or the wholly improbable turn her life takes.
I won't give much else away, but if you've seen even one single episode of "General Hospital" or "Days of Our Lives," you'll be able to predict every single plot turn in this ill-conceived story. Too many of the characters are cardboard cutouts, including Pattyn's horrifically evil dad and the super-sweet and caring Ethan, that you may want to cringe. I hate to give a book a bad review, particularly when, as I mentioned, the craft of the poems is extraordinary. Plus, the book reads quickly and Pattyn, at least, is a compelling, complex character. But I think "Burned" is just so messy, ridiculous, and ultimately irresponsible that I cannot recommend it. If you feel otherwise, please let us know.
PS – If you decide to read "Burned," please know that it is most definitely a high school book, with lots of drinking and sexual situations.