Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

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September 13, 2012

"Identical" by Ellen Hopkins is haunting, addictive poetry

Ellen Hopkins’ many New York Times bestsellers seem to be a staple in the young adult display section of most bookstores. The thick, pithily titled novels are attention-grabbing: shiny metallic covers and dramatic, unconventional fonts dare you to snatch a copy and dive in. I’ve been lured by Hopkins’ chunky volumes more than once, but I’ve almost always neglected them in favor of other young adult picks.

Written completely in verse, Hopkins’ novels deal with grave issues such as drug use, alcoholism, sexual abuse, and mental illness. Although I’ve been charmed by the flashy, thick novels, it seemed that 565 pages of poetry about drug-addicted, mentally ill teenagers would become unbearable by page 10. During many a bookstore expedition, I passed over Hopkins’ shiny tomes.

Recently I reached a new level of desperation for interesting summer reads. I picked up a reflective silver paperback, Hopkins’ “Identical” and decided to take a chance.

Fortunately, my initial assumptions were completely wrong.

Within the first few pages of “Identical,” I was addicted. Succinct verse and a fast-placed plot make for frequent page-turning and easy reading. Not only is Hopkins’ poetry meaningful through the words themselves, but she continually changes the visual format of her verse, so the stanza arrangement adds interest and illustration to the story.

“Identical” is much more than the escapades of drug-addicted, mentally ill teenagers. Raeanne and Kaeleigh are identical twins with an absent, uninterested politician mother and a district court judge father. Kaeleigh has been sexually abused by her father for years, while Raeanne feels neglected by both her parents. Kaeleigh is introverted and tries to play by the rules, while Raeanne is the wild child who tries to push the limits.

Both girls watch as their parents’ marriage quickly deteriorates. Both girls know that each member of their family is hiding his or her own dark secrets. Both girls watch as the other becomes more and more self-destructive. They each know that something must be done—neither can continue to survive this way.

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