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Review: People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins

Review: People Kill People by Ellen HopkinsPeople Kill People by Ellen Hopkins
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on September 4, 2018
Pages: 448

Someone will shoot. And someone will die.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkins tackles gun violence and white supremacy in this compelling and complex novel.
People kill people. Guns just make it easier.
A gun is sold in the classifieds after killing a spouse, bought by a teenager for needed protection. But which was it? Each has the incentive to pick up a gun, to fire it. Was it Rand or Cami, married teenagers with a young son? Was it Silas or Ashlyn, members of a white supremacist youth organization? Daniel, who fears retaliation because of his race, who possessively clings to Grace, the love of his life? Or Noelle, who lost everything after a devastating accident, and has sunk quietly into depression?
One tense week brings all six people into close contact in a town wrought with political and personal tensions. Someone will fire. And someone will die. But who?

I read a lot of books about gun violence. Not because I am big into the second amendment or my firearm rights – on the contrary, I am very much an anti-gun person. But with gun violence ever on the rise in America, I feel it’s very important to carefully let our teenagers, our young adults and new adults alike, understand what society is doing, what some of this fighting really is all about.

Ellen Hopkins is known for her no-nonsense, unflinching takes on certain hot-button topics that other YA authors would’t touch with an 8 1/2 foot pole, including but not limited to hard drugs, abuse disguised as religion, prostitution – the list goes on. She is also the sweetest woman in the world who sent me an ARC of this book from her very own personal stash, and I my inner high schooler flailed like she was 15 again.


How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend

I really had to sit with this book for a hot minute after I finished it, just to let it digest. This is a whopper, potentially the Moby Dick of YA books about gun violence. Unlike most traditional “YA gun violence” books, though, it does not take place in a school shooting. Rather, there is no clear-cut perpetrator, nor victim. At least, not until past page 400.

We meet six POV characters, and cycle through each one’s thoughts and emotions. Chapters are broken up by Hopkins’ trademark poetry, and what might be the most interesting aspect of this one is the narrative style. People Kill People is told in second person – a rarity for just about any book, much less YA. But similar to The Book Thief, we have an abstract concept narrating the story to us: violence.

These characters are like us – and in so many ways, they aren’t at all. We meet Cami and Rand – a couple who got pregnant way too young and married as babies themselves. Now they are nineteen years old, with a four year old and struggling with the weight that most people don’t feel until their late twenties, if ever: how do I keep my family afloat? We meet Noelle, a girl who struggles with binge eating as her only form of control after being hit with a stray bullet while her father was driving. Grace, Noelle’s BFF who is more into boys than she used to be, and Grace’s clingy, vaguely terrifying boyfriend Daniel. We also have Silas – a white nationalist whose mother is dating a Jewish man and whose father is dating a woman from Mexico. Silas cannot stand either of those things.

The game – though I hesitate to call it a game – we are going to play, we’re told early on, is this: someone dies. Who? Who shoots them, and why? We dip in and out of their heads enough – put in their shoes with all of the “you” directives – that it’s anybody’s guess. And the answer surprised me – I didn’t see it coming, to be honest.

The Bottom Line

Hopkins has done something that is not always easy to do – she combines two very important hot-button topics (white nationalism and gun control) into one narrative, and still keeps it approachable for her teenage readers. A lot of the reviews I’ve been reading rate this book low on the totem pole, saying it’s offensive. It might be, but only because the subject matter is offensive. It’s uncomfortable to sit in the shoes of someone you know you wouldn’t be able to stand in reality, isn’t it? But that’s how we grow.

This book is disturbing. It’s thought-provoking, powerful and earnest in its sincerity. It is not a fluff piece to read in an airport. It is meant to be digested slowly, piecemeal. I highly recommend it, but don’t go into it expecting to be anything it’s not – it deserves its very own impressions.

“Like a god
I am nothing
without you
but I am relentless
I know you can hear me
and sooner or later
you’ll heed my call.”

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  • Reply
    September 15, 2018 at 2:25 am

    I’m on hold for this at the library and waiting for our copies to come in. I don’t think I’ve read any of her other stuff, though I’ve been aware of her for ages. But this one really interests me. Great review!

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