by Ellen Hopkins
It all started with a dream. Just a typical fantasy, but for a girl raised in a religious—and abusive—family, a simple dream could be the first step toward eternal damnation. Now Pattyn Von Stratten has questions. Questions about God, and sex, and mostly love. Will she ever find it? Pattyn experiences the first stirrings of passion, but when her father catches her in a compromising position, events spiral out of control.
Pattyn is sent to live with an aunt in the wilds of rural Nevada to find salvation and redemption. What she finds instead is love and acceptance, and for the first time she feels worthy of both—until she realizes that her old demons will not let her go. Those demons lead Pattyn down a path to hell—not to the place she learned about in sacrament meetings, but to an existence every bit as horrifying.
I'm always interested in books that include religion and religious characters, and as someone who regularly went to church as a child and who still identified as Christian a few years ago, I'm often drawn towards books which feature Christianity in some way, or feature characters who identify as Christian. It's one of the reasons I'm often drawn to books set in nunneries and monasteries, such as C. J. Sansom's Dissolution and Robin LaFevers' Grave Mercy, and to books which feature characters who perform ecclesiastical work.
Ellen Hopkins is a writer I've been meaning to check out for a while now, and I'm ashamed to say I owned Burned for a several years before I finally picked it up. Hopkins is known for writing novels in verse, and is probably best known for Crank which, I believe, was inspired by Hopkins' daughter's own drug abuse. Burned, on the other hand, is a novel in verse about a young girl brought up in a strict, Christian community who is sent away when she has a sexual awakening that embarrasses her family when she begins asking questions and acting out.
So, what did I think? Unfortunately I wasn't a fan.
Burned fell into the trap of presenting me with a stereotypical religious villain, as books like this so often do. Entire books have been written about the negative impacts of religion - although personally I prefer to focus on the comfort it offers people, and I do believe religion has more of a positive impact than a negative one - and while I appreciate there are people who use religion, all religions, the wrong way and the problems with such people should be addressed in our stories, I was a little disappointed that everyone in Pattyn's community seemed to be 'bad' in some way. Her father was misogynistic, violent, abusive and a drunkard, and as Burned wore on he began to feel so villainous that he was bordering on the unbelievable - I half expected him to start twiddling his moustache, and because he appeared that way to me I felt like he was an insulting and stereotypical representation of what some people have actually suffered through.
I also wasn't so keen on the relationship Pattyn develops with a boy she meets when she's sent to live with her aunt, whose name I can't actually remember; not only did it feel like a case of instalove, but I felt like there was also a lot of confusion regarding the relationship between sex and love. Now I know that often when you're a teenager, sex is associated with love (though this isn't the case with everyone), and I understand that Pattyn being shown 'what love is' was supposed to compare the way this boy treats her with the way her father treats her mother, but something about it just didn't sit quite right with me. I recognise that Burned is essentially the story of a sexual awakening, and the trouble Pattyn gets into that leads her to being sent away doesn't have anything to do with her idea of love at all, but she also didn't seem to mature, despite the traumatic things she goes through, to recognise that her relationship with He Who Cannot Be Named would be just as valid if it wasn't a sexual one.
Am I making any sense?
Basically I wasn't a fan of Burned and I doubt I'll check out more of Hopkins' work in future, sadly she's not for me, but I'm glad I tried it and I'd recommend it if you're new to verse novels and want to try one for yourself!