The You I've Never Known by Ellen Hopkins
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Ariel has spent her entire life drifting from place to place with her Dad, Mark. Abandoned by her Mom as a baby, Ariel and her father move often, leaving Ariel unable to form relationships and always feeling as if the latest place they touch down is just the next in a series of temporary stops. They've been living in Sonora long enough for Ariel to finish an entire year of school, and she's finally formed a few friendships. One of them is to her closest friend, Monica, to whom Ariel feels a deep friendship-- and attraction. Their friendship and potential relationship is complicated somewhat when Ariel meets Gabe, the nephew of her father's girlfriend, Zelda. Ariel is attracted to Gabe, too, and she isn't sure exactly what that means.
Meanwhile, Maya is trying to escape her hateful mother, and the only out she can see is Jason Ritter, an older man in the military. But now Maya is pregnant, and married life with Jason is turning out to be scary and lonely.
Told in both prose and verse, there's no doubt that Hopkins' story is often beautifully done. My biggest issue with the novel wasn't the book itself, but that the plot description reveals, in my opinion, a major spoiler that doesn't actually occur until past page 350. If you ask me, that's far too deep within the tale to reveal in the description, and I would have enjoyed figuring that twist out myself and getting there on my own. The story itself, as I mentioned, is told in various ways, and you need to be prepared for the verse, as it does take some getting used to. I haven't read many of Hopkins' books (in fact, Goodreads tells me I've just read Tilt, which I'll confess I don't recall at all), and I probably had to go at least 75 pages until I was sort of in the swing of the verse "thing." The book is told from both Ariel and Maya's point of view (though mostly Ariel) and most of Ariel's pieces are in verse.
So, combine the verse/prose aspect and the fact that I was constantly waiting for this plot twist to happen while reading, and it took a bit to get into the book. There's definitely a lot going on this novel, but it was nice that at least Ariel's sexuality wasn't always the main focus. It was also refreshing to find a bisexual teen heroine. Overall, the book seemed to handle it fairly well, too, without so much of the usual stereotyping you can find in other novels and/or the media. I think a teen struggling with similar issues could find some comfort in this book, and that's important. For me, I wasn't completely sure that all the threads of the book were truly fully formed. I'm not completely sure how to explain that fully; it's not that I expected resolution to everything, but there were some serious topics dealt with in in the novel (beyond Ariel's sexuality) and it sometimes felt like they all got glossed over or moved past rather quickly. Bisexuality, rape, abuse... those are serious topics, and I'm not sure they got the ultimate focus they always needed.
So, in the end, I find myself a bit stumped by THE YOU I'VE NEVER KNOWN. I was certainly intrigued by the book and enjoyed it. As a bisexual female, I greatly enjoyed the character of Ariel and welcomed finding her in literature. While parts of the book went on a bit for me (though perhaps that was the verse format, I'm not sure, or waiting for the aforementioned spoiler), I found it interesting. Still, in the end, something felt a tad off for me. However, much of the writing was lovely, and the storyline different and often engaging. Overall, I'd probably give this one 3.5 stars.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 01/24/2017.
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