I have officially read every single Ellen Hopkins book she has released so far. While The You I’ve Never Known wasn’t my absolute favorite, I did really enjoy it.
The book is written from two viewpoints. Ariel’s parts are written in the verse style Ellen Hopkins is known for. Ariel is a teenage girl who is raised by her Dad. They have lived a pretty irregular lifestyle – constantly moving from one place to another, from town to town, school to school, house to house. This has made it very hard for Ariel to put down roots or make friends. But to her, it’s normal, and just another part of life. Finally though, Ariel and her father have lived long enough in one house that she finally has friends, is starting a relationship, is on the basketball team, and is feeling grounded.
Maya’s chapters, on the other hand, are written as journal entries. She writes about her abusive, Scientologist mother, her pregnancy, her marriage, and the eventual kidnapping of her baby by her abusive husband. She continues writing to her daughter, every year on her birthday, and hopes that one day they will be reunited.
One of the things I liked about this book is the same thing I like in all of Hopkins’ books – the verse writing. This style of writing can be either really good, or really bad. Fortunately, I’ve never had a Hopkins book where it wasn’t done really well. She does a fantastic job of making sure it blends together, and doesn’t feel disjointed, or like you have to pause every few words.
Another thing that really stood out to me with this book was Ariel’s exploration of her sexuality. I thought it was really important that it showed Ariel’s confusion about how she was feeling. First she was processing her emotions about possibly being lesbian, and working through all that entailed. Then she met Gabe, and she realized that she liked men too. It was good to read about a teen figuring out her sexuality where it wasn’t a nice, neat little package. It isn’t always black and white. That was probably my favorite part of the plot.
There were a couple things I didn’t like though, as there is with almost every book I read. Mainly, I was really angered by how Ariel handled what happened with Garrett. I just felt like it was excused away, and the focus was more on Gabe and how he reacted, instead of making sure Garrett was punished.
Another thing I didn’t like, or should I say another person I didn’t like, was Maya. LORD did I not like Maya. I had SO many feelings about her getting pregnant just so she could get away from her mother. Like. SO MANY FEELINGS. I understand, and agree, that her mother was an awful person. But, MAN. Then when she came back, she kind of just bombarded Ariel. That’s a HARD thing to process. Give the girl some space!
Speaking of Maya’s mother, one thing I really, really wish was fleshed out more was the Scientology angle. It was mentioned sporadically, but I wish Hopkins had gone into more detail about the different places she was going that she wanted Maya to go with her. I know that wasn’t the main focus, but I think it would have been a really interesting thing to include.
Overall, the positives in The You I’ve Never Known outweighed the negatives. I will continue to be a fan of Ellen Hopkins’ work, and continue to read more as she releases it.