Posted with permission by the author. Original post is https://medium.com/@ellenhopkins/to-those-on-both-sides-of-the-book-removal-issue-4ec67cbc9434
I went to high school in the ’70s in small town California. Overall, it was an upper middle class, not particularly diverse school. The majority of my schoolmates went to church and had college in mind after graduation. We appreciated our teachers, supported our sports teams and arts programming. To the casual observer, it was the “ideal slice of Americana” some people want to return this country to. Except . . .
There were LGBTQ kids, struggling to accept the core of who they were because they’d been forced into closets, with little care or respect for their identity. Recreational drugs — weed, psychedelics, speed — were prevalent, and steroids were locker room staples. Drunk driving killed my first love. One classmate died from anorexia. Eating disorders weren’t discussed. A friend took her own life because her father was sexually abusing her. I personally fought off a rape. Some of my friends couldn’t. Oh, and quite a few of us had sex, or at least thought about it. A byproduct of adolescence.
Today’s young adults weather similar problems. The difference is, the ensuing decades have widened our views, broadened acceptance, and deepened our understanding of those problems. Today’s kids can find the information necessary to divert them from a bad path, admit they need help, or come to terms with who they are. In books.
Young adult titles like mine and others illuminate possible outcomes of choices. CRANK, my first YA novel, is a straightforward (and poetic) narrative about a girl who makes a single bad choice that destroys her dreams. It reads real because it is. That girl was my daughter, a straight-A, church-going kid who fell in with the wrong crowd and lost her dreams for close to thirty years.
She was also raped. That scene, written with concern for the YA audience, is in the book. Because when you reach a place in your addiction where you’ll do anything to score, sometimes very bad things happen. There is nothing “pornographic” about it. Pornography is meant to titillate, and if that scene turns you on, you’ve got a problem. It’s painful. You want the character to be okay, to make it through, to please stop using. The vast majority of readers never want to find themselves there. Over the years I’ve received literally thousands of emails and messages. Here are three, unedited except for possible identifiers:
“I want to say thank you for your books. I was about 17 when Crank came out, and it helped me out by giving me a voice to tell someone one what happened to me. Normally, I didn’t chose to read these kind of books because it would bring back to many memories, ones that i have tried to repress. My mother was kind of like Kristina in your book. Some of my earliest memories are of me getting beat or raped to so she could get her next fix. By the time i was 5, the only thing i knew was abuse. When I got put into foster care, I was kind of like Maya Angelou, I didn’t speak, i couldn’t find my voice. As I got older I got better but I only spoke when absolutely necessary.
I don’t know why I picked up your book, but it seemed to be the key to my voice. I found a good friend to talk to, this gay guy named … He was all I had. He had (and still has) trouble shutting me up. The very morning i finished Crank i got up got dressed went to his house and for some reason told him everything. It made me feel so good to finally have a voice. You gave it too me, You were like that lady that helped Maya get her voice, but for me.
You help more people than you hurt with your books. People want to be connected with someone else. It’s the human condition. I never felt like i was apart of everyone else until i started reading your books. Please stay strong and keep looking out for us, the kids without a voice.”
“Hey Ellen, I can’t wait until all of your books are out. I wanted to say Thank You. about a year and a half ago, I remember talking to you about my drug problem and how I don’t feel I’m going to make it or ever be clean, and you told me to keep trying and keep climbing this mountain.
After we had that talk, I sent myself to rehab, where shortly later I relapsed, and started getting clean again, until a full blown relapse occurred, I then signed myself into [residential care], after scrolling through old comments and reading what you wrote, and it inspired me to try again.
Tomorrow, I will be 7 months clean straight, and I wanted to thank you for the confidence you gave me. You truely are my favorite author, but also, my savior. I love you. -….”
“I’m honored to get this opportunity- to tell you that ‘Crank’ saved my life, opened my eyes to the world I was exposing myself to and rapidly getting drowned in. And then, two years later it did the very same for my little brother who found it in my moving boxes and read it thinking it was a teen book about kids doing drugs. He was doing meth the night he read it, with his at the time girlfriend. They quit the very next day. Thank you Ellen, you’ve touched our lives forever- and I’ll always be more thankful than you’ll ever know for your books.”
Beyond addiction, my books explore difficult issues kids face daily at home, school, church, on street corners and in backseats. My goal is to equip readers with knowledge, help them identify risks, and make informed choices. BURNED and SMOKE address abuse in the face of religion. IMPULSE: the reasons behind teen suicide. PERFECT: the drive for perfection that can result in eating disorders or steroid use. IDENTICAL: sexual abuse. TRICKS and TRAFFICK: child trafficking and survivorship. PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE: gun violence. RUMBLE: grief. THE YOU I’VE NEVER KNOWN: identity, and not just the gender variety.
Each was written with a teen audience in mind, regarding content. I also write adult novels and understand the difference. I do write real because teens possess incredible BS meters, and truth matters to them. I write with respect for the obstacles they must conquer and the sophistication many adults don’t see. It’s easy to believe their lives are carefree. They are anything but:
“I think Identical was the most intense work of literature I’ve ever read. I’ve never felt so close to anything in my entire life. The only thing that’s made life bearable this month was having the opportunity to read your books, relate to them, and realize that I’m not alone and I never have been. First of all, thanks. A ton. You’re such an inspiration to so many people. I was nervous to read about all of these intense topics. And at points, I found myself in tears because everything is so real.
I’m fifteen. Almost sixteen. But since I was almost ten, I’ve had two different sexual abuse cases opened. It started with my uncle, moved to his friends. It was tough to live with for a while. It reminded me how scary it was to deal with as I read the sections in Identical that talk about Kaeleigh’s fear, when she counts her father’s footsteps in the hall, scared of what’s coming next. I don’t know if i’ve ever cried that hard in my life. But it was okay, because although it’s fictional, these things really happen and I’m not going through it by myself. Physical abuse came next, and it was scary. And from there, I struggled with addiction to cutting and alcohol. Alcohol is finally gone, but cutting is still near and I still think about it a lot. It’s been 26 days since i’ve picked up a razor and used it against myself. Progress is progress.
Suicide is very real. Addiction is very real. Abuse is very real. But hope and faith and love are also very real. And they can often outweigh the struggles. Maybe I just want to tell you that you’ve given me hope and security.
You’re an amazing person, and I look forward to reading your newest book in august. Thanks for listening, and thanks for turning frightening topics into conversation. Because, truly, they’re important. God bless.”
Beyond helping young people over their own rocky patches, the books give them insight into other people’s problems. Often, their parents’ or siblings’ or friends’. Sometimes reading about issues they’ve never faced themselves drives them to want to help others.
“I personally wanted to e-mail you and tell you that you are one of the absolute best authors and you happen to be my favorite. I as a teenager sometimes feel that adults don’t truly understand the world in which we live in. Our lives are difficult. We have to balance out dealing with friends, maintaing our grades so we don’t dissapoint our family and school, and even have relationship issues. But it goes beyond that, which you demonstrated in your book Impulse.
Teenagers have a motive to do everything and we can get very depressed. As a whole, I am very pleased with the life I live but after reading Impulse, I learned that people in the world truly have it worse than me. Your books, especially Impulse, have inspired me to become a clinical psychologist to help teenagers with issues concerning eating disorders, depression, thoughts of suicide, and any other disgruntling subject they would like to talk about. When I read your books, I feel the need to help the characters get through the situations they are encountering. At the end of the novels, whether the character chose the path of a horrid future or death, it makes me feel like I didn’t help them.
I truly wanted to thank you for helping me decide what I want to do for the rest of my life. You are truly an inspirational person and I hope to continue to read every single one of your books and “try” to help the characters. Thank you again and God Bless, ….”
“I’ve emailed with you tons before and even recieved a signed book during a rather rough period in my life. CRANK as a whole changed my view of my life and the world around me. I live in Missouri. A place rather notorious for it’s meth use and production, so CRANK was like a look into the inner workings of my miniscule town. Every book written after CRANK has had a substantial impact on the fabric, each one opening my eyes, soul. mind, and heart just a little more than last. Unlike its predecessors, TRICKS opened my eyes in a different way, educationally. Right now I’m a freshman at Westminster College in Fulton, MO, and have been trying to decide on my major.
TRICKS has encouraged me to pursue a career in social services. I want to work with the Children of the Night organization. I always knew I wanted with children/teens who were at risk or in a tough situation. This organization would be perfect for me! Thank you for opening my to such a wonderful organization, and to such a terribly overlooked subject in our country. Once again thank you for opening my eyes to the world and to my future! One of your biggest fans, ….”
In this age of information, where real porn, showing real people having real sex is available on every cellphone; where video games visually glorify bloodshed; where movies and TV shows leave little to the imagination, books are among the safest spaces for kids to seek the answers they need. Engaged parents might consider reading the same books and opening conversations. Shutting the door, refusing difficult dialogues, can only lead to resentment and shame. As I’m fond of saying, ignorance is no armor. Truth is the force field.
Beyond all that, there is danger here. All are welcome to their beliefs, but whatever their ideology, one parent or group cannot make decisions for everyone’s children. And legislating such decisions is more than a slippery slope. It’s a landslide toward authoritarianism. Politics, other than civics courses, do not belong in education.
I’ve raised three children into adulthood, adopted one, supported aged-out fosters, and served as guardian for three grandchildren. The youngest, still with me, is almost fourteen. He’s an avid reader and I let him choose whatever YA he wishes. He deserves to have his favorite books available in his school library. Ditto every kid, many of whom can’t afford to buy books or have access to a public library.
Parents have always had a say in their children’s education. THEIR children’s education. Not MY children’s education. If they want to censor THEIR kids’ reading, so be it. But they can’t be allowed to speak for MY child. What they find inappropriate matters not to me. It’s my place to decide what’s right for my kid. I want him to have a solid grasp of history. To understand we share this planet with people of many races, religions, and identities. To be exposed, through books and classroom learning, to a wide spectrum of ideas, and allow him to embrace those that speak to him. Because I want him to have a curious mind and value his humanity. I wish the same for every child and pity those who’ll never have that chance.
One more message follows here.
Impulse. The three stories in the book will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I have been suicidal for over a year.
I thought dying would just make everything better.
Make myself and everyone else happier.
I thought nobody would care if I died.
The end of Impulse really affected me.
I grew attached to all three of the characters.
I felt like they were my friends.
I loved them.
Related to them.
Connected with them.
Vanessa.. Tony….. and Conner.
The ending of Impulse left me in tears.
I read Impulse a few months ago and I still feel the way I felt about the ending.
I’ve read your other books as well.
I loved them.
They’re on the top of my bookshelf, my favorite books.
But Impulse really, really touched my heart.
No book has ever made me feel the way I felt once I finished the last page.
I wish I could change his decision.
But it’s too late.
Suicide is a permanent end to a temporary problem.
I was once suicidal.
You saved me.
After reading Impulse, I realized that suicide does not have to be the end.
I’m still breathing.
I’m still alive.
You’re my hero.