I’m a big fan of Ellen Hopkins. My favorite book of hers is entitled “Impulse.” I’ve read a few others of hers, and I have definitely enjoyed them. However, I could not put “Impulse” down. It was delightfully consuming.
There are several things to love about Ellen Hopkins’ writings. The first, at least for me, is her writing style. The way the words are laid out on the page is extraordinary. She writes in verse, and many times the verse takes on a shape significant to the content of the text. This adds such visual interest that you can’t help but be intrigued. And secondly, her subject matter is edgy, is graphic, is surprising, and is GENUINE. She has a keen sense of the struggles many young people encounter in today’s world, and expresses them in a way that helps to give voice to what they are going through, as well as helps to communicate these things to those who are invested in helping and caring for them.
In “Impulse,” there are three main characters who meet at a residential facility for teenagers in need of intensive psychiatric care after having attempted suicide. The three characters do not know each other, nor are they all that similar (at least, at face value). However, their lives become interconnected through their therapy sessions, daily activities, and shared struggles. Each character’s story is incredibly personal and compelling; however, the one that I related to most was Vanessa. Her story opens with her suicide attempt in which she slits her wrists in her family home and is found by her younger brother. Her grandma, a nurse, provides the immediate care necessary to keep her alive until the ambulance arrives. As her story unfolds, we learn that she has a complicated family history involving an absent father and a bipolar mother. Her way of dealing with the pain she feels is acting out sexually, which ends up in a pregnancy she chooses to abort. She’s so overwhelmed by the shameful and painful feelings she has both from what causes her to act out, as well as the aftermath of how she feels from the abortion that she gets involved in self-injurious behaviors. She cuts herself to deal with the emotions she has but cannot handle.
If anyone reading this blog is familiar with self-injury, you may be aware that once a person begins using it as an escape from the reality which they cannot face, it becomes the knee-jerk answer for any time of discomfort. Vanessa, once she has begun hurting herself, finds it impossible to stop. What’s more is that she doesn’t see a reason to stop, since she no longer sees a reason to be alive, let alone healthy.
In my own experience struggling with mental health issues (one of which is self-injury), I can attest to the truth of the quote above. The knowledge that one is not alone, that this struggle and this drive and this confusion is something shared by many, is a huge relief. Because the nature of self-injury is often alienating, due to the fact that many people do not know how to respond to the notion, and are often repulsed by the scars left from self-injurious episodes, many sufferers find themselves feeling rather alone and isolated. The need to hide the wounds and scars is often synonymous with the need for the self-injurer to hide their own thoughts and feelings.
In the book, Vanessa learns to connect with the other characters, who, although their struggles are different, are actually quite similar to her. This connection brings them a certain comfort that was previously unavailable to them, since they previously were not in daily communion with young people facing these types of challenges and concerns. As the quote above says – there is a “simple” need to connect with someone who might understand. It’s funny that this need is considered to be simple, especially when you think of how complex and crucial these relationships can be.
Yet, in the end, Vanessa learns that she can, in fact, overcome the self-loathing and guilt she feels. She can, like a lotus, blossom from the mud where she stands. It is at this point that Vanessa realizes the following:
Personally, I find this quote to be a motivator – something to spur me on into a future filled with hope. It is of no use for us to wail over the past, for it is gone and there is no changing that. What we have is the here and now, in anticipation of what good may come. And of course we will come across trouble, and find ourselves stumbling and losing our direction at times, but the idea is to not allow that to become the way we live our lives. For it is through this cycle of falling down and getting back up that we learn the value of peace and happiness. And, as Vanessa says: our happiest memories we have yet to create.