Title: The You I’ve Never Known
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Genre: YA, Verse, Realistic Fiction, LGBTQ+
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Book
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I will not be placing a synopsis because it gives the whole plot and purpose of the book away. If you’re really interested in checking it out on Goodreads, then click here. I’m going to summarize the book the best way I can, however I really do recommend to start this one blind =)
Told by two different characters, Ariel and Maya. All Ariel knows is moving around the USA with her dad, she doesn’t know stability and staying in one place. She doesn’t know friendships, education, or a household. According to her dad, home is wherever the both of them are since Ariel’s mom abandoned them when she was little. However, for once in Ariel’s life, her and her dad (Mark) have stayed in Sonora, California for a little over a year and Ariel finally feels normal. Ariel has friends, she’s been to school for a full grade, she’s feeling optimistic about the future, and maybe her and her dad will stop moving around so much. Ariel is also shaken up because she’s experiencing internal battles with herself and sexuality. And having a father who’s a homophobe, living in Sonora that is super conservative, she doesn’t know who to talk to about these feelings she’s experiencing for both Monica and Gabe (I’ll get to them later on in the review).
Maya is trying to run away from her mother who happens to be obsessed with Scientology and Maya wants nothing to do with her and that “cult” as Maya likes to call it. She blames Scientology for changing her mom and her parents divorce. Maya cannot stand her mom because she can’t even have a relationship with her father. All of a sudden her father dies and she even goes to his funeral without consent of her mother because she would’ve refused. Maya’s mom wants to move them to LA to be a part of the Church of Scientology but Maya has other plans.
And somehow in all of this, Maya and Ariel meet and things take a turn.
I loved the writing! The book is written both in verse and prose but mostly verse. Ariel’s POV is verse and Maya’s POV is in prose. I don’t know if any of you know this but Ellen Hopkins is one of my all time favorite authors and a big inspiration to me because of the way she writes her books. As a poetry writer myself, Ellen is like my mom lol.
Ellen Hopkins uses different techniques when she writes in verse. Sometimes she’s saying two different things in the same page and I’m still trying to figure out HOW she does that. With a few words, Ellen Hopkins will paint you the world and characters with vivid emotions.
I feel like I touched based a little too much with Ariel and Maya in the summary/plot, therefore I will move onto the other characters in this book that we get to meet. I want to discuss a little on Ariel’s dad, Mark. I found him to be a complete asshole, however Ariel makes so many excuses for him and you can clearly see the abuse that is going on between child and father. Mark is an abusive father; physically, emotionally, and mentally. He is a very manipulative character. Not just to Ariel but his girlfriend Zelda as well. Both victims to his schemes and lies. Ariel always playing protector since it’s always been him and her and her dad always spoke so bad about Ariel’s mom and that she never questioned him. He is very good in gaslighting.
We also get to meet “The Freak Club” which consist of Ariel, Monica, and Syrah. They call themselves that because they all have “dysfunctional” things going on. And I use quotation marks because not all is wrong. Monica is a Lesbian Mexican American who is not out to her family because she feels like her family wouldn’t accept it. I loved Monica’s character and even though her character felt just slightly stereotypical to me (the Latina bff who always has to say something in Spanish here and there to her non-spanish speaking friends, you know, in order to prove to us the reader that they’re Latinx), Ellen Hopkins wrote her really well. When Hopkins wrote in Spanish, she got the accents right and she even got the Mexican food right! It’s so important to me as a Latina myself that when people write about us, they get our language and culture correct. Monica and Syrah are both very supporting characters towards Ariel and what she’s going through with her internal struggle of bisexuality. Monica and Ariel have feelings for one another but Monica knows that Ariel is having a hard time. And I love that Monica is still willing to be there in the end for Ariel no matter what happens. I love the female friendships in this book because I feel like we don’t get much of that in YA. We definitely see a lot of Monica and Syrah throughout the book.
Gabe is introduced a little later in the book, he is Zelda’s (Mark’s girlfriend) nephew and he comes into town to stay a while with Zelda while he tries to figure some things out. Gabe and Ariel hit it off which confuses Ariel even more. Gabe, another supportive character is just a sweet charming guy trying to get by. He sees the abuse of Ariel’s father and tries to protect her but there’s only so much someone can do.
I loved this book. You might be wondering why I say love when I gave it a 4 star. The reason why I gave it a 4 star was because it got repetitive at times and I wish that what happened more towards the end was extended and the repetition was cut off. Ellen Hopkins writes truths in this book. She writes about how bisexuals are perceived and how even Ariel perceives herself because of social standards towards bi people. Ellen Hopkins also leaves a Authors Note talking about how she wrote this book based off her own experience which had me crying at the end. And I won’t discuss the authors note because it will lead to the spoiler and plot of the book. With Ariel moving so much and the way Ellen Hopkins talks about the instability of staying in one place and even sleeping in the car with her dad for weeks at a time, I asked myself about her health. Hopkins, covered all my questions about how her health was and even her lack of education. I liked the diversity of this book, Ellen never disappoints with her diverse cast of characters and their situations. Maya’s story was short but touching and to the point. Which is why I don’t talk much about her because her story is pretty much a major spoiler. The abuse that both Ariel and Maya experience in their own journeys are heart wrenching and sad. I would definitely recommend this book!