Thursday, March 31, 2011

Identical, by Ellen Hopkins

Identical, by Ellen Hopkins. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008. 565 pp. ISBN  9781416950059

Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical twins who are living a nightmare.  Even though they are not the best of friends, sometimes their only consolation is each other.

Realistic Fiction

In this free-verse novel, Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical teenage twins who live in a small central California town which appears to be Solvang from the description of it.  They live with their lawyer father in an affluent neighborhood, while their mother, a politician, spends most of her time away from home.  Their father, addicted to alcohol and drugs, regularly molests Kaeleigh.  Raeanne witnesses the attention their dad pays to Kaeleigh, and in response acts out by using drugs and having casual sex.  Eating disorders and self-mutilation round out the list of tragedies that form these girls’ experience. Both girls are slowly losing themselves, and it will take courage and determination to unearth some astonishing family truths, and hitting rock bottom before the possibility of healing presents itself.

Wow, what a book.  I don't think I'll be able to visit the central California coast in the future without thinking of Kaeleigh....and strange as this may sound as she's fictional, wondering how her life turned out.  This is definitely a work that stays with the reader, a very powerful look at the dynamics of incest.  The sheer intimacy of Kaeleigh's thoughts and statements held my rapt attention, making the different shapes of certain passages and juxtaposed parallel words in side-by-side passages seem somewhat  unecessary to me.  But I realize that they add expanded meaning and work for many readers. The novel is paced almost perfectly, building up the readers' understanding of the twins' psyches little by little, making them real.  The climax and resolution, when they come, are satisfying and believable.

This is an extremely important novel for incest survivors, and I really think that Kaeleigh is the kind of character that could become a stand-in friend until such teens are able to reach out for help.

I had not read a book concerning incest before.

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