Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Finding Hope

If you want to read a well-written, hard-hitting portrait of meth addiction in teenagers, please read Beneath A Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson.  Or, if you're feeling like a bit of poetry and you don't mind an author mining her daughter's life for fiction material (ahem), Crank by Ellen Hopkins is a perennial favorite with teens.  We definitely need more books about the repercussions of drug abuse in teen lit, but just because they're needed doesn't mean that what we get is necessarily good.

It's a bit like the question that authors, bloggers, editors, librarians, and other bookish folk have been asking about diversity: if you diversify your book, but execute it poorly, isn't that worse than having no diversity at all?

So, should one write a book about meth addiction if the book itself isn't particularly good?




In Finding Hope, I didn't just find the treatment of drug addiction problematic, but the whole focus (or lack thereof) of the novel.  For all of the topics it attempted to discuss (meth, stepfamilies, homelessness, sexual assault, bullying, sexting, and a lot more that I've probably forgotten), Finding Hope merely hit glancing blows on each one.  To quote Red Leader, it "just impacted on the surface."  Instead of digging deeply into one or two issues, the narrative skates across paragraphs wherein an problem comes up and is then resolved.  Or, conversely, problems come up and the characters wait until the very end of the book for the Let's Wrap Things Up Fairy to appear, wave her magic wand, and bibbity-bobbity-boo!  The characters have an epiphany and change their lives.  Aww.

Finding Hope is a dual POV narrative from the perspectives of siblings Hope and Eric.  Eric was once a promising hockey star, the golden boy, but he's now a meth addict living on the streets, scoring a hit here and there with the babysitting money his little sister hides in their secret hiding place, hoping he'll use it for food.  Hope's home life isn't so great, either.  She's an ace student, but her mother is sending her off to boarding school to get her out of their hometown.  It's one of those places you always say you'll leave, but lack of opportunity and poverty and general life crap just keep you there, chained in misery, wishing you could get out but constantly holding yourself back.  I know.  I kind of live in one of those places myself.

BUT ENOUGH OF MY WHINGEING.  Ahem.  Hope is an extremely passive person (to put it mildly).  It's not her idea or desire to go off to this fancy school, Ravenhurst, but in order to keep peace in her broken family, she goes.  This reasoning gave me pause.  Going off to boarding school isn't going to detox her brother.  It's not going to make her mom happy, and it's not going to make her dad (Eric's step dad) stop hating him so much.  It serves no purpose other than putting Hope in a foreign environment from which Eric decides he needs to rescue her.  Sure.

I suppose I should also mention that this is set in Canada, which I finally figured out once they started talking about hockey so much.  Your non sequitur of the review is now complete.

When Hope arrives at Ravenhurst, she initially befriends her roommate, because, as the new girl, she is a pariah, a weirdo, you know, all the clichés.  There are the Queen Bees of Ravenhurst and the loser kids.  Hope was never really anyone at her last school, and she sees a chance to reinvent herself here.

Wait, did I just fall into the plot of a late 90s movie that may feature a makeover, a choreographed dance scene, or both?  Now I've got "Rockafeller Skank" stuck in my head, thankyouverymuch.


Anyway, Lizzie, Vivian, and Emily recruit Hope into their squad (that's what we're calling them now, right? I can't keep up), which include such wholesome pursuits as running down the hall naked as a dare and getting plastered on peach-flavored vodka (ew).  Hope's only in the group for a short time, though, because she refuses to cut off her roommate's hair on a dare.  Cassie used to be friends with the Ravens (ha, great name) but they cut her off and now they are MORTAL ENEMIES.  Since Hope doesn't do the dare, the Ravens cut her off, poison Cassie against her, and freeze her out of everything at school.

I'm going to interject a moment as Grown-Up Pam.  Yes, I too was once a teenager, and I too attended high school.  I've gone to both private and public schools.  I've never seen this kind of doors-fly-open, wind-machine-blows-flat ironed-hair, mean-girls-queen-bees-rule-the-school behavior.  Sorry for all the hyphens, but you can picture it, can't you?  Twenty-six year old actresses playing sixteen-year old girls?  Lip gloss, belly shirts, mini skirts, high heels, the works?


I honestly want to know: did any of you go to a school like that?  Were you hypnotized by the contoured cheeks and glossy locks and perfect legs of these fey creatures called the in-crowd?  Did you have a posse of hot chicks strutting around and running the school?  If there was one at my school of 2,000 kids, I was oblivious or I just didn't care.  I was there to ... go to school.  My obvious status as a goody two-shoes and geek clearly left me out of the running to join the popular kids (we had lots of those--they went to tanning booths every other day and played sports), but no one ever taunted me or bullied me or froze me out or tried to get me to drink cheap vodka.  Maybe I'm a statistical anomaly in that I don't think it's as glossy and shiny as it's portrayed in the books, but it irks me to see this tired high school trope show up in so many novels (not just YA ones).


To deal with the tragedy of not having any friends, Hope begins an online relationship with a guy named Devon who attends the all-boys academy next door.  He saw her picture and thought she was cute and then he's sending her gifts and Hope thinks that he actually exists.  My apologies if you read this and were surprised, but I'm sure that you have seen enough high school movies to know exactly what's going on with this Devon thing.  It all culminates when Devon has Hope send nudes of herself.

Hang on a second.  How did we go from super-shy-Hope who hides pictures in a tree stump for her addict brother to "Sure, no problem, let me sext you!" Hope?  Especially when you've never met the guy, never even heard his voice on the phone?

NOTE: I'm not condemning Hope for taking the pictures.  I'm questioning the believability of Hope's slide into being what society would deem a "bad girl."  Who goes from being so straight-laced so as to stand up straight while sleeping to being all, "Sure, look at my boobs, guy I don't know!"?  That's what's throwing me.  It's not illegal to take pictures of yourself, and it's not your fault if someone hacks your phone.  It's their fault.  They've committed the crime.  Okay?  Okay.

There was an opportunity here to talk about slut-shaming and agency over one's own body, but instead it devolved into a silly and elaborate revenge-plot.  Hope's solution to the problem was to try and get Lizzie convicted of distributing child porn.  Yes indeed, we have truly hopped on the train to Nonsense Village and missed the turn off for having a meaningful conversation about bullying and sexting and abusive relationships.

I know I've focused primarily on Hope's story, because it irked me more, but Eric's story is also histrionic in that overblown after-school special way.  He decides he has to find Hope at her new school so he hitches to The City and pays for hitches with sexual favors, which reveal The Reason he became an addict.  It turns out that his coach sexually abused him constantly, and in order to escape, Eric started taking drugs.  Now, his mission is two-fold.  He's remembered that the coach lives in this city, so he's going to kill him and save Hope from the ... evil boarding school.  There's also a weird and depressing subplot with a puppy.

However, despite all of the crap going on in their lives, Hope and Eric manage to have a happy ending.  Yes, despite Hope's idiocy in not telling her mother where Eric is until the last second, and Eric's wild plan to set his coach on fire ... but everything is okay and Eric goes to rehab.  Fin.

The book is relatively short, and it's spread dangerously thin with all of these difficult topics that it's trying to cover.  Hope and Eric are pretty-two dimensional, with Hope being the more irritating and, frankly, unbelievable of the two.  There was also some weird body shaming language used, which automatically knocks stars off my ratings.  Hope's roommate, Cassie, wears socks that "stuck to her legs like sausage casings" and has "dimpled, cherub thighs."  In her hometown of Lumsville, Hope's peers hang out at the pool in "too-small bikini tops and jiggling flesh."  "Jiggling flesh"?  What's wrong with that?  It's clearly meant perjoratively, but in general, flesh jiggles.  It moves.  So what?

In the end, I found myself asking, "Did this book need to be written?"  Yes, we need stories about bullying and sexual abuse and drugs.  But we need them to be believable, captivating, and hard-hitting.  They need to reach into your soul and strangle it.  Finding Hope didn't do that for me.  It didn't do much at all except irritate me.

I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley.

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