Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “We are nothing if we cannot tell each other our secrets.”
Pattyn Von Stratten’s father is dead, and Pattyn is on the run. After far too many years of abuse at the hands of her father, and after the tragic loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn is desperate for peace. Only her sister Jackie knows what happened that night, but she is stuck at home with their mother, who clings to normalcy by allowing the truth to be covered up by their domineering community leaders. Her father might be finally gone, but without Pattyn, Jackie is desperately isolated. Alone and in disguise, Pattyn starts a new life, but is it even possible to rebuild a life when everything you’ve known has burned to ash and lies seem far safer than the truth? (Goodreads)
Smoke is the sequel to Ellen Hopkins best selling Burned. Burned gave us the bittersweet heartbreaking story of Pattyn Von Stratten. A teenager whose seemingly perfect life was a lie. Raised in a restrictive and abusive religious family, Pattyn struggles as she begins to question the sacraments of her faith. When she crosses the line, she is sent away and while there learns what true love and freedom means. The end of Burned left us in the air as we watch all of Pattyn’s dreams go up in flames and she sacrifices everything to ensure no one else will suffer what she has.
Smoke picks up where Burned left off. We know that Pattyn’s father caused the death of her boyfriend, Ethan, and her unborn child. Pattyn is shattered and exacts her revenge but not in the way or for the reasons you think. When she finds her father has turned his abusive rage on to Jackie, Pattyn interferes and soon both young women are fighting for their lives. A violent yet predictable outcome sends Pattyn fleeing into the night, looking for peace and salvation, while Jackie is left to face her broken family and the community. Her mother’s continued indifference and adherence to fundamentalist LDS church doctrine keeps Jackie isolated with no one to turn to except a young man who takes advantage of her trust, while Pattyn’s isolation is internal. As Pattyn and Jackie’s lives continue to intersect, drawing closer to a conclusion, both are given the opportunity to speak of their abuse and they each shine in different but spectacular ways.
I enjoy Hopkins’s writing. She has a beautiful lyrical prose with a brutal honesty that speaks to you throughout the entire story. Her ability to speak for teenagers is a gift that we are lucky she shares with the world. Domestic violence and sexual abuse are powerful themes that underwrite the entire story. Hopkins doesn’t shelter us from the storm yet sprinkled throughout is hope and love. Smoke is a story of survival.
I loved how the story is told, alternating between Pattyn and Jackie. The sisters are struggling to deal with their abuse and the subsequent fallout from their actions on that fateful night. It’s interesting to see how they are each deal with it. Hopkins does an excellent job of maintaining the girls’ individuality yet showing how intertwined they are, even if they are hundreds of miles apart. Pattyn’s memories of her time with Ethan are heartbreaking and even now as I think of those scenes, I find myself tearing up. I enjoyed especially watching Jackie emerge from her shell and begin to spread her wings. She, like Pattyn, begins to question her life, the church doctrine, and her mother’s apathy. I found myself cheering as she begins to show life with her anger and frustration. And like Pattyn, she meets someone who is able to help ground her when the emotions become too strong for her to deal with alone. The final scene between Jackie and the Elders was epic and I felt her indignity and anger at everyone involved.
In a time when YAs are predominantly aimed towards romantic entanglements and overblown dramatics, Hopkins’s refreshing voice resonates through the genre. Smoke is an emotionally impacting contemporary that addresses the aftermath of violence and how the ability to heal and move on is within everyone’s reach. I don’t recommend reading Smoke as a stand alone though you can. I personally feel the events in Burned are necessary to fully understand the journey that is undertaken in here by both sisters.