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The You I've Never Known by Ellen…

The You I've Never Known

by Ellen Hopkins

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It has always been Ariel and her dad. Her mother took off when Ariel was little, and her dad has nothing nice to say about that. They have moved around a lot, but Mark has always taken care of Ariel, even though he sometimes flies off the handle and is verbally abusive. Because they move around so much, Ariel has never really had time to make any friends, until now. They have finally stayed somewhere long enough she can build a relationship with someone, and that relationship has started to raise questions for Ariel: does she like guys or girls? And what does she tell her dad, because the story he tells about her mom is that she left him for another woman. How will he take the news is Ariel is gay? And then another bombshell: Ariel's mom comes to town one day claiming Mark kidnapped Ariel when she was three and has moved around ever since so they couldn't be found. Oh, and another thing - Ariel's name isn't really Ariel. As Ariel tries to sort out the truth of her life and how she feels, she doesn't know what to believe or who to trust. Ok - confession: I marked this book as read, but I didn't completely finish it. I usually love Ellen Hopkins's books, but this one I just struggled to read. I got almost to the end and finally gave up as I kept choosing other books over this one. I just didn't care about the characters that much or what happened to them. The themes and topics of the book are, as always, important ones and very timely in our society currently. The topics are not the issue I have with this book; the characters just didn't connect with me so I couldn't get into the story. ( )
  litgirl29 | Apr 17, 2017 |
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 [b:Tilt|11133791|Tilt|Ellen Hopkins|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1346263814s/11133791.jpg|16057047], 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. ( )
  justacatandabook | Jan 25, 2017 |
A complex, nuanced, and heart-rending coming-of-age story.

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for child abuse, domestic violence, rape, and racist/sexist/homophobic language.)

Four letters,
one silent. A single syllable
pregnant with meaning.

I’m getting married. That should have an exclamation mark, shouldn’t it? I guess a small part of me is excited to leave my current existence behind in favor of something brand-new. But the closer I get to the appointed time, the more I think I might’ve made an awful mistake.

My childhood is a jigsaw puzzle,
with chewed and misplaced
pieces. I’ve always known that.
What I didn’t realize
is that even if every correct piece
was fitted perfectly into place,
the resulting picture would’ve been
interpretive art.

When she was just a toddler, Ariel's father Mark kidnapped her. Of course, she doesn't know this - yet. Raised on a steady diet of her father's lies, Ariel thinks her mother Jenny ran off and abandoned the family to be with another woman. The duo has spent the last decade and half moving from town to town, state to state, mooching off her father's latest conquests when possible, shoplifting and sleeping in the car when not.

After years of bouncing around, Ariel and Mark have finally settled in Sonora, California - which is to say, they've managed to stay in one place for a whopping fifteen months. Ariel was able to attend a whole year of high school uninterrupted, joined the basketball team, and even made two friends: teammates and fellow "freaks" Monica and Syrah. Mark's in a somewhat stable relationship with a woman named Zelda, and things are looking ... good. That is, if you don't look too hard.

Mark is ... a piece of work. Actually, that's an understatement: the man's a full-on sociopath. Kidnapping isn't the worst of his offenses. He's emotionally and physically abusive, treats his daughter like a possession, and demands total obedience at all costs. He has a laundry list of rules that Ariel must follow; some, like leaving her shoes at the front door and not bringing any stray animals home, go to his rigid nature, while others only make sense when Ariel discovers the truth about herself. Unlike other parents, Mark isn't keen on the idea of letting his seventeen-year-old daughter get a driver's license (never mind a car!) or a part-time job, even though both would make his life infinitely easier. Nor is he thrilled when she saves the life of local VIP girl Hillary Grantham, thus attracting the attention of the media.

All of this is sure to mess with any kid's head, and Ariel's all caught up in those precarious teenage years, when kids naturally push boundaries and challenge authority, trying to suss out their place in the world. Mark's authoritarianism leaves zero room for self-expression or identity. More alarmingly, the man is virulently racist, sexist, and homophobic - and Ariel is in love with her queer Mexican American BFF, Monica. Neither girl is out to her family (though Monica's is, on the whole, much more loving and supportive than Ariel's party of two). Ariel's already complicated and confusing feelings are further colored by the fact that her mom abandoned her for another woman. As if this isn't enough to deal with, enter Gabe, Zelda's hot nineteen-year-old nephew to whom Ariel immediately takes a shine.

Ariel's story is bound up with that of Maya, a seventeen-year-old girl who orchestrates a pregnancy and marriage to a soldier ten years her senior. This seems a better choice than the alternative: moving to Sea Org in Los Angeles with her abusive Scientologist mother.

To be honest, there's an awful lot going on in this book; with Ariel alone, you have the kidnapping (and inevitable discovery/questioning of identity/reunion), physical and emotional abuse, and exploration of sexual identity. The Scientology stuff seems a little over the top. That is, until the two women's stories finally intersect: then it all gels together and makes a ton of sense.

Like many (all?) of Ellen Hopkins's books, this one is written in verse (mostly), and thus feels much shorter than its 608 pages. I'm not sure whether the convention adds anything to the story, but it definitely doesn't detract from it, either.

Hopkins does an excellent job dissecting a dysfunctional relationship - several of them, actually - and identifying the many techniques abusers employ to harm, belittle, isolate, and humiliate their victims. In particularly, I was pleasantly surprised to see her call out gaslighting by name, providing a clear definition and multiple examples of gaslighting in action. It's clear from the get-go that Ariel finds her father's behavior disquieting; but, lacking any models of healthy relationships, outside observers/allies, or even the proper vocabulary to voice her thoughts, she thinks the malfunction is hers. If you don't know what the problem is, how can you even begin to fix it?

I also love that Hopkins centers a story around a bi MC. Navigating a burgeoning sexual identity can be hard for teens, but infinitely so when your dad's burdened you with a ton of baggage. At first it seems that Ariel thinks she's gay - Monica is the only person she's formed a real connection with, after all - which disturbs her on some level, since she doesn't want to be anything like her no-good mom. But when Gabe enters the mix, she's forced to reevaluate. Ariel struggles with a plethora of stereotypes about bisexuals - they're promiscuous, greedy, mentally ill, can't make up their minds - which are ultimately challenged, though perhaps not as strongly as I'd like. I'm curious to read other people's thoughts on this.

Overall, The You I've Never Known is a nuanced, complex, and timely coming-of-age story with a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, that tackles a range of social issues: sexual identity, child abuse, domestic violence (especially as it relates to the military), PTSD, racism, homophobia, and rape, to name a few.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2017/01/23/the-you-ive-never-known-by-ellen-hopkins/ ( )
  smiteme | Nov 15, 2016 |
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With both joy and fear, seventeen-year-old Ariel begins to explore her sexuality, while living with her controlling, abusive father who has told Ariel that her mother deserted her years ago.

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