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Book Review: Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

Pattyn Scarlet Von Stratten
Some Things

You can’t take back, no
matter how much you wish
you could. No matter how
hard you pray to

all-powerful miracle maker.
Some supposed God of Love.
One you struggle to believe
exists, because if he did,
wouldn’t be so out of control,
and you wouldn’t be sucked dry
of love and left to be crushed
like old brittle bones that
easily ground into dust.
Hindsight is useless
when looking back over
your shoulder at deeds

In Smoke by Ellen Hopkins, the sequel to 2006 Burned, readers come back to sisters Pattyn and Jackie Von Stratten. The story is told in in the alternating voices of the sisters; Pattyn is on the run from the community and the law and still dealing with the death of her beloved Ethan and their child, and the abuse she suffered at the hands of their father. Meanwhile, Jackie is home and having to deal not only with the aftermath of the shooting, but also with trying to pick up the pieces of her life and figuring out what is left for her after everything that has happened. Can either sister find their peace, or their voice, in the paths that they’re forging? Or will everything crumble to ashes and smoke?

Smoke is not to be taken lightly, and has a lot of trigger points for victims of abuse (both physical and sexual). Told in verse style, the voices of Pattyn and Jackie strike through to the core of readers and never let go, and readers will be flipping the pages to find out what happens. Finding hope and their voices is a central point within the story, and it gives hope to those looking for a way out of the darkness. Will definitely appeal to fans of Hopkins, although I would recommend readers start with Burned if they haven’t already read it- while not necessary, it helps build the story. Would definitely pair with other teen verse fiction books, such as What My Mother Doesn’t Know or the Make Lemonade series. 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

I adore Ellen Hopkins, I’ve met her in person many times, and I love her books. That being said, Smoke was like this for me:

FIRST, there is Pattyn, who is still dealing with the loss of Ethan (whom she was secretly seeing against the church elders’ wishes) and the loss of their baby in the crash from Burned. She’s on the run, out in the world, and is off to California with no plan or anything. Never mind that she’s reeling from that trauma, she has to leave. Eventually hired as a non-documented domestic housekeeper, she’s giving love to the youngest daughter while the oldest goes totally off the deep end.  In a big way.  Needless to say, by the end of the book, THAT ends up shattering Pattyn’s world (can’t give everything away) and things crash down just when she finds some sense of peace. 

THEN, while all of THAT is going on, we’re also getting Jackie’s story. Jackie is stuck at home with a mother who is disengaged, a church who is messed up, and a rapist classmate who has the protection of the church. She’s dealing with the trauma of being almost beaten to death by her DAD right after she was raped of her virginity, and she’s being told that the rape was consensual and partially her fault. Jackie, however, is finding her voice, and starting to build herself back up even though she’s suffering through PTSD, and finally every wall that they try to build around her comes crashing down, even the ones her mind had built.

It is a POWERFUL book, and a beautiful book, one that should be in a YA collection but definitely has triggers in it. Teens that are readers of Hopkins’ work will not be surprised by the topics is contains, and she deals with them honestly and in a way that brings you to tears.


  1. Many thanks for your thoughtful review.

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