Closer to Nowhere
by Ellen Hopkins
Recommended Ages: 12+
It's all about feeling safe for the boy who has lost everything and is only gradually learning to trust that his new family won't be taken away from him, too. And now he has good reason to melt down. His mean-drunk grandma has dropped in for Thanksgiving, holding nothing back in her treatment of a kid who represents all of her dead daughter's bad decisions. His uncle and aunt, whose home has been his first point of stability in years, are thinking about splitting up. And his abusive dad has gotten out of jail and wants to take him back from the first safe place he has known since his mom died. Only a few well-placed words, the start of a new friendship and the first stirrings of a change in Hannah's heart may help decide whether Cal's next running-away stunt proves to be for good.
I feel for Cal and Hannah – a cagy boy whose narrative is structured around "Fact or Fiction?" challenges, and a driven-to-succeed girl who's all about the definitions of words. I know their type and, in a way, I see a little of myself in both of them. My heart was touched by their story.
As for the author's conceit of pitching this novel in the form of verse, meh. I was working myself up to deliver a massive burn on the idea that writing poetry is all about adding extra line breaks to prose. Without altering a word, this book could have been typeset in the form of paragraphs, saving perhaps dozens of pages and neither gaining nor losing artistically. But there was one chapter, or poem, at the heart of this novel that suddenly grabbed my heart and squeezed, and I had to admit, it was a beautiful moment – a single, moving page of legitimate poetry. (Hint: Watch for Cal's description of what he feels when the lady cop tells him to keep shining his light.)
Ellen Hopkins is a novelist and author of socially relevant verse novels for young adults whose books often come in sets of two or three, including the "Crank" trilogy (Crank, Glass and Fallout, based on her daughter's struggle with addiction), Burned and Smoke (featuring an abusive religious cult), Impulse and Perfect (exploring issues surrounding suicide), Tricks and Traffick (featuring trafficked teens), Triangles and Tilt (featuring the sexual awakenings of three moms and three teenagers), Love Lies Beneath and A Sin Such as This (a pair of soapy, sexy romantic thrillers). Her other titles include Identical, Collateral, Rumble, The You I've Never Known, People Kill People, What About Will? and Sanctuary Highway, addressing issues ranging from bullying and gun violence to the effects of child sex abuse and traumatic brain injury.