Book Review: Identical by Ellen Hopkins

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Book Review: Identical by Ellen HopkinsTitle: Identical
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Release Date: August 26, 2008
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderberry
Page Count: 565
Genre(s): Realistic Fiction
Summary from Goodreads:
Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical down to the dimple. As daughters of a district-court judge father and a politician mother, they are an all-American family—on the surface. Behind the facade each sister has her own dark secret, and that's where their differences begin.

For Kaeleigh, she's the misplaced focus of Daddy's love, intended for a mother whose presence on the campaign trail means absence at home. All that Raeanne sees is Daddy playing a game of favorites—and she is losing. If she has to lose, she will do it on her own terms, so she chooses drugs, alcohol, and sex.

Secrets like the ones the twins are harboring are not meant to be kept—from each other or anyone else. Pretty soon it's obvious that neither sister can handle it alone, and one sister must step up to save the other, but the question is—who?

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Identical does not pull any punches. This novel in verse is decently long, and in its pages, just about every “issue” that can possibly be covered in an “issue book” is dealt with. Rape, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, student/teacher relationships, schoolyard bullying, self-harm, BDSM (of dubious consent), sexual abuse of a child by a parent, child pornography, violence, mental health, sex sex sex—the list goes on and on. Normally, I would have called this overkill, said Hopkins was packing too many problems into one book, setting herself up for failure.

In this case, though, I don’t think it was overkill. Maybe, just maybe, this book isn’t entirely uh…realistic. Maybe, just maybe, the picture painted will be too dark for some readers. It’s not that the content isn’t real, but that there’s so much of it, and it might be, for some readers, like sinking in a sea of bad things and drowning before the Coast Guard comes. Personally, I didn’t drown, and the end result was a very satisfying, intense read.

Twins Kaeleigh and Raeanne are mirror images of the other, but they couldn’t be more different. Kaeleigh is like their mother, much to her father’s perverted delight. Kaeleigh is a victim of sexual abuse, she binge eats, she cuts herself, and (inexplicably, considering everything she’s gone through) she’s in love with her best friend Ian. Raeanne is like their father, and because of that, he doesn’t give her the time of day. Raeanne spends her days having sex, smoking pot, and nursing all the hate and bitterness her twin sister seems to be lacking.

Separately, the two girls are broken, incomplete. Together, they have the power to change their lives for the better. But that can only happen if they break down the walls that rose up after their father chose to molest Kaeleigh and not Raeanne (because Raeanne is jealous, something even she admits is sick and disgusting).

So, not going to lie, Identical was not surprising at all. Maybe, perhaps, because earlier this year I read two books that, while completely different, each have exactly half of the shocking conclusion to this novel. Obviously I can’t say which two books, but it was easy for me to see the patterns and know where Hopkins was headed. That predictability, however, didn’t really affect how I felt about the book as a whole. Identical was kind of like a grotesque car accident on the side of the road: you know you shouldn’t look, but as you drive past, you can’t tear your eyes away. Ellen Hopkins had me hooked on this book.

As I expected after my great experience with Burned, Hopkins’ poetry was strong, evocative, and worked well. The story switched between Kaeleigh and Raeanne’s perspectives, and the dual-narrative worked well to highlight the disparities between the two girls, all while showing how alike they truly were. I may have had a few complaints, but the nature of the conclusion was such that any problems I spoke about were invalidated and, I suppose, proved to look purposeful on the author’s part, which I’m sure they were.

All in all, Identical is a strongly written and engrossing book. It’s very dark (maybe too dark), and there’s a lot going on in this book. But the situation was presented in a way that made this impossible to set aside, because the desire to see some good come into the sisters’ lives was so, so pressing. As this is my second book by Ellen Hopkins, I’m confident in saying that I’m a fan of her work.

5 Stars


12 Responses to “Book Review: Identical by Ellen Hopkins”

    • Renae M.

      Exactly! I kind of knew what was going to happen, but it was so shocking when it actually did. Such a crazy, crazy book.

    • Renae M.

      It is SUPER dark! Like I said, almost every bad thing that can happen to a person happens in this book. It’s craziness.

    • Renae M.

      Verse is definitely a very tricky format. I think Hopkins does a really good job with it, though, and of the two books I’ve read by her, this is certainly the better one.

  1. Jessica R

    YES! Yes yes yes oh I am so thrilled you enjoyed this one! This makes me all kinds of happy. No, it wasn’t perfect and yes, it was dark and tackled a lot, but somehow Ellen Hopkins just DOES IT. I hope you keep reading her work because while Identical is the one that stands out most in my mind, I did really enjoy a lot of her other stuff.

    • Renae M.

      Exactly! I’m not quite sure how she managed to pull this book off, because it sounds like it would not work at all. Really, there’s TOO much going on. But somehow it all fit together and I was really impressed.

      I think I’m going to try Crank next—if I remember correctly you said that’s another of your favorites?

      • Jessica R

        Crank was the first one of hers that I read and I did enjoy it. I really got into it emotionally because the story is based on the author’s daughter’s own battle with meth addiction. It doesn’t tackle quite as much as Identical, which is probably a good thing, and it felt very honest, so I do think it is one of her better ones.

  2. Kelly

    I remember my jaw hitting the floor by the time I finished this one – it took me by COMPLETE surprise, so I’m so excited that you liked this even though you saw it coming!

    • Renae M.

      It was just so powerfully done that suspense wasn’t necessary for the end to make an impact. Which is amazing, really.

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