Coming-of-age novel told in stark, emotional verse
I sat down, right before dinner, meaning to read a few of the poems in Burned, just see what Ellen Hopkins was all about. Two hours later I was still reading, captivated by Pattyn von Stratten’s voice, her situation, her timid yet strengthening rebellions. 300 pages were gone, and I’d forgotten all about my dinner. I was quite convinced that Hopkins had found a lifelong fan in me (I still think that.)
Pattyn, the oldest of 7 daughters, is suffocating. She’s from a strict LDS family, and her dad drinks and beats his wife. Abruptly, Pattyn realizes that she is a sexual being, and that realization turns her worldview inside out. She finds a non-Mormon boyfriend, gets drunk, becomes a girl worth being friends with in the estimation of her peers. And then her dad finds out about what she’s been doing. Pattyn is sent to live on her aunt’s ranch in Nevada, where she meets Ethan and learns that, if there is a God, He’s definitely not the God her father believes in.
Up until this point, I absolutely loved Burned. The scenes where Pattyn lost control of her temper and talked back to her dad and the local bishop? Priceless scenes, proof that Pattyn von Stratten was a lady you didn’t want to mess with, in spite of her circumstances. Watching her become her own person on her aunt’s ranch was wonderful, too, though not quite as breathtaking.
It was in the last 200 pages or so where I fell out of love with this book. With Ethan on the scene, Pattyn’s thoughts went from intriguing to lovestruck. Because this novel is in poetry format, things became cheesy quickly. At one point, Hopkins compared having sex to sliding down a rainbow. Ew? And when Pattyn left the ranch, she became depressed, talking about how she needed Ethan more than life, how she loved him and would die without him. I willingly admit that I have limited tolerance for angst—especially poetic angst.
The the end—bing, bang! Book: done. It was too fast, too abrupt. I never felt the emotional backlash of what happened to Pattyn. It was rushed.
So in spite of a fantastic start, Burned wasn’t quite a perfect read, and I was a teensy bit disappointed that things turned out that way. I was all set to love this book wholeheartedly and I couldn’t do that. However, I was still massively impressed with this one, and I’m going to make a point of picking up more novels by Ellen Hopkins in the future. Any woman who can render emotion so beautifully on the page, make it so easily accessible, is the kind of person whose writing I want to experience more than once.