No, the story didn’t suck. The characters were okay. The plot was fast-paced and the drama is, in classic Ellen Hopkin universe, irreverently honest.
I’ve always liked Ellen Hopkins because she approaches dark themes so headstrong and heartwrenching.Raw and brutal–that’s how I’d describe the way she tackles issues that most writers will not dare touch with a ten-feet pole. I liked that her stories always stand on the precipice of danger and how they always leave me distraught and disturbed. You see, it’s extremely important to me as a reader to be part of the world inside a book, but Perfect and its characters left me feeling somewhat cold and disconnected, and it’s not because I didn’t believe them–I just chose not to believe what they believe in.
I was seventeen and a college freshman when one of my classmates lent me a copy of Impulse, and I remember being wildly intrigued and instantly smitten by a novel told in the form of confessional poetry, because seriously, how kick-ass is that idea? On top of that, all her characters are troubled and broken teenagers whose sufferings echoed my secret struggles and heartbreaks. Needless to say, I was hooked. Since then I have read Crank and Glass and Burned, and I know this will sound terribly ungrateful, but although they are as real and unflinching as anything Ellen Hopkins ever wrote, somehow it feels like sitting through the same show as a recurring spectator for the umpteenth time. All dilemma, no denoument. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing but when you see the same thing play out in a zillion versions, it kinda wears you out. We’re human. We get tired. We crave new things.
Looking back now, it was a phase in my life when I was a bleeding heart snob who wrote about sadness like it’s a cool hippie trend for elites. I wrote poetry for the college newspaper and underground magazines and yeah, okay, I’ve worn too much eyeliner and listened to sad rock songs like an anthem. Sure, I’m stereotyping, but don’t we all?A hundred books and several years later, I have discovered that sadness wears infinite, more complex faces—that there’s a whole other galaxy outside of unrequited love, drug abuse, dysfunctional families, sexual inhibitions, suicidal thoughts. I don’t mean to undermine these issues, since the truth and urgency of these problems are undeniably happening everywhere across the world, no matter what era, and I appreciate that a writer like Hopkins has devoted the majority of her body of works to these, but I guess both reader and writer are entitled to their responsibility and privilege to grow, and I did. I have come to the point in my life when I’ve decided I’ve had enough of stories that wallow endlessly in the most blatant, borderline-“pop” forms of existential crisis, of books that somewhat makes the burden even heavier by pretentious, self-indulgent navel-gazing, books that highlight the dark, rotten core of humanity instead of unraveling the few things that make us shine.
I’m not saying these books shouldn’t be read. I’m sure we all have a particular time and mood for our choices in literature, and it just happened that currently I’m a twenty-something crankypants who prefers to read more about affirmative, uplifting stories. How predictably unrealistic, I know. I have a lot more growing up to do too, I guess.
For all it’s worth, Perfect remains to capture the essence of Ellen Hopkins’ writing fashion. Twisted, in an oddly comforting way—almost like a solace, a reminder that you are not alone in your sufferings; that someone across the world also hurts just as bad as you do. The story tells you: We are all falling apart inside, but at least we all fall down together.
“…what good would it
shutter your windows, never
dream of rainbows or find hope
in promises? Why choose to
rather than hold your ground
and fight for love?”
If this book made me realize one thing, it’s this: that to crave for a little bit of lightness and joy is not a sin; that confessing how tired I am of tragedies isn’t something I should apologize for.
We don’t want perfection—we just want to be okay.