Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rumble by Ellen Hopkins--Incandescent verse

Release Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderberry, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781442482845

Matthew Turner is an eighteen year old high school student struggling with the suicide of his younger brother Luke, the victim of brutal bullying due to his sexuality. Matthew has lost all faith in God, blaming religion and his parents for not helping Luke get through his ordeal. His father is the basketball coach and stays gone most of the day (for reasons other than basketball) while his mother turns to pills and alcohol for comfort. The only apparent light in his dark world is Hayden, his girlfriend, who is obsessed with religion.

Matthew is called into the guidance office after writing his senior essay on his lack of faith, specifically that of a higher being. His counselor and other teachers are worried that he may be planning to exact revenge on those who bullied Luke into suicide, but Matthew claims he’s just letting off steam. His therapy sessions don’t help, and the lack of parental involvement at home drives Matthew further and further into darkness.

Anyone who has read any of Hopkins’s novels, specifically her debut Crank, will not be surprised by the complete honesty of the characters and situations in Rumble. Not many authors confront homosexuality and bullying; in fact, the most popular is referenced in this novel: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Writing a novel from the brother’s point of view instead of watching the downfall of Luke himself shows the depression of living with guilt and blame. The peeks into Luke’s suicide spread throughout the novel allow the reader to put the pieces together and watch as Matthew slowly unravels as the novel progresses. 

The poetic format pushes the story along, creating a quicker read and the pressure to “just keep going” and finish the book. Separately, each chapter could stand alone and be analyzed in its own form, but together, the narration smoothly transitions into each section of Matthew’s life. In fact, the pace of the book is so quick that the ending falls short and feels rushed. Hopkins leads the reader to a very important realization on behalf of an accident in which Matthew is involved yet doesn’t take the time to explore its effects.

Matthew pushes the boundaries throughout the novel and forces the reader to stop and think: is he being serious or sarcastic? With the excerpts from his senior essay strewn throughout the poetic narration, one would tend to learn towards sarcastic, but his feelings of revenge and sexual frustration can easily frighten the reader. At what point does his anger seem too real? These particular sections made me question Matthew’s intentions. But, he lives in a home that was broken long before Luke’s death, and in this kind of situation, one cannot expect him to be totally stable.

Hayden, the goodie-two-shoes girlfriend is annoying and plays the part well. While most would appreciate Hayden's faith, her obsession with religion makes it is easier to side with Matthew’s sensibilities, at least on some level. Matthew’s desire to keep their relationship intact is frustrating. Just let her go. The appearance of her creepy youth minister, Judah, is enough to solidify Matthew’s jealousy and throw Hayden even more into the arms of religious enlightenment. When Hayden’s ex-best friend, Alexa, becomes a central character in the novel, the reader welcomes the distraction.

Ellen Hopkins shows no restraint in her newest novel, tackling every subject from homosexuality, to bullying, to drug abuse, to negligent parents, to school shootings, though she does so in a way that impending danger never feels evident. She presents real characters that you could see walking down your own school hallway, and she hopes that you would be more open-minded to the struggles of others, whether you agree with them or not. Rumble once again shakes the prose form and continues her unique exploration into what teenagers really think about.  

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