Impulse (Impulse #1) by Ellen Hopkins
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Published: May 20th 2008
Paperback, 666 pages
Challenges: 100 Books in 2011, YA Series

Three teens tell their stories, in free verse, from a psychiatric hospital after failed suicide attempts. Their lives unfold in alternating chapters, revealing emotionally scarred family relationships. An absent father, a bipolar mother, and a secret abortion have caused Vanessa to slash her wrists. As a compulsive cutter, she hides a paper clip to dig into her skin. Tony’s drug overdose was triggered by an addiction in which he exchanged sex for money. Abused as a child, he is confused about his sexuality. Connor is the son of rich, controlling parents, and he survives a self-inflicted gunshot wound after a doomed affair with a female teacher. Initially, the narrators are inwardly focused, having arrived at “level zero,” the beginning of their treatment. As they become acquainted with one another, the story, told in spare verse and colorful imagery, becomes more plot-driven and filled with witty dialogue. Both boys value Vanessa’s friendship and there is an inkling of competition for her affection, although she assumes that Tony is gay. During a wilderness camping trip with other patients and staff, which would graduate the trio to the final level of treatment, it becomes apparent that one of them is mentally backsliding at the thought of returning home and has stopped taking meds. The consequences are played out, leaving the others to grapple with an additional loss and a newfound appreciation for life.

people, with nothing
at all in common
except age, proximity,
and a wish to die.”
It is hard to know where to start in sharing how wonderful Ellen Hopkins’ Impulse is.  Ellen Hopkins continually amazes me at how real her characters are, how their raw and pure emotions literally seep into your soul and take hold, and how much I find myself caring for the characters and their stories as if they were my own.  None of the three main characters, Vanessa, Tony, and Connor, are what they seem to be.  Not only does Ellen Hopkins create an interesting setting, a psych ward which in itself has many stories to tell, but each character is multi-dimensional with many stories themselves to learn, share, and discover.

Vanessa finds a version of peace in the form of a sharp edge against her skin.  Only when she is able feel pain is she able to release all her fears and worries that she has inherited her mother’s troubles, at least for a little while.  Tony fights a way of life he is not sure he was ever given the choice to choose, keeping memories of his past in the past knowing the haunt is present and future.  Connor’, unable to live up to everyone’s expectations, he finds the only way out is through a bullet. Their lives become interconnected, whether they like or not, and soon find themselves learning more about themselves as they learn about each other. 

tapestries, tattered
at the edges and come
unwoven to reveal
a single mutual thread”

Hopkins’ character development is outstanding.  Her use of poetry and verse (which in itself is superb) creates a very deep and timeless link between the readers and the characters, giving an inside look into each one that you would not otherwise receive.  As with real life, you are never given all the details of any situation at once, let one your own feelings.  Hopkins shows how real this is in her characters – the truth of one is gradually revealed, to both the readers and the characters themselves.

“Life is all about change. If it were static, think about how boring it would be. You can’t be afraid of it, and you can’t worry that you’ll mess things up. You deserve good things, and I want to be one of them.”

If that was not enough, Hopkins surprises you constantly, especially at the end.  Vanessa, Troy, and Connor grow and change into different people by the end, showing the reality of pain, hope, fear, love, and life.  Hopkins holds nothing back in Impulse, offering a real, raw, and emotional journey in the reality that many pretend to not know about.  Hopkins throws it all in your face and makes you open your eyes and heart.  A must read for anyone looking for understanding for themselves or for others. 

My Rating:

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