Second Look: Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

Every time I read a book by Ellen Hopkins, I’m always so surprised at, well…. everything! The book description on the jacket never does any justice to the heart and meat of the story. A tiny, one paragraph blurb can never sum up 600+ pages of poetic BRILLIANCE. So when I picked up Perfect, as usual I didn’t know what to expect. Hopkins’ books are somewhat formulaic in the sense that they’re usually about a group of teens whose lives all eventually intertwine with shocking (and sometimes devastating) results. Yet I’m never disappointed. The stories are so intense, unpredictable, and well-written that I find myself addicted to each and every story and character. Perfect was no different.

Four teens who are all connected in some way, shape, or form all strive to be PERFECT in their own ways. The result is the desperate lengths Cara, Sean, Kendra, and Andre will go to to achieve their goals of perfection. Perfect is the companion novel to Hopkins’ 2007 novel, Impulse.

Cara’s twin brother, Connor, attempted suicide (we got his full story in Impulse) and is being hidden away in Aspen Springs by their parents, because revealing that he tried to kill himself would bring shame and a permanent stain on an otherwise “perfect” family. With Connor out of their parents’ sight (and minds), Cara has to get the perfect grades, date the perfect boy, get accepted into the perfect college, and have the perfect life to help keep up the family’s image. Suddenly Cara’s world is turned upside down when she starts to have some very confusing thoughts and feelings. She begins to question who she really is, and wonders what’s more important: becoming her true self or keeping up appearances to appease her parents.
Sean, Cara’s boyfriend, is on his way to being the star of the high school baseball team. To impress the scouts from his college of choice, Sean needs to slug more home runs, steal more bases, and set more records. But he’s not doing it on his own. He’s getting a little help from some not-quite-so-legal substances. Those substances are doing some pretty wonky things to him though, and are threatening to ruin him on and off the field.
Kendra, Connor’s drop dead gorgeous ex-girlfriend, is still coping with their breakup, his “accident,” and subsequent absence from her life. She’s 107 pounds and is determined to skim off those last few so she’ll be ready to grace the runway as a serious model. She’s willing to do whatever it takes to have the perfect face and body including brutal workouts, cutting calories, and scheduling her first of many planned cosmetic surgeries. When her family begins to spiral out of control as she and her sister deal with their father’s upcoming wedding, Kendra learns that the road to perfection isn’t always easy, and it certainly isn’t pretty.
Andre comes from a line of hard working, driven, big-money-making family members who have very high expectations for him to follow in their footsteps. Andre has a passion for something else, though. Something his parents most definitely would not approve of. Andre happens to meet up with Kendra’s sister, Jenna, who opens up his world in whole new ways. Far from being perfect herself, Jenna helps him understand the difference between love and passion, and how to become who he truly wants to be.

There isn’t enough for me to say about this book. Hopkins’ once again delivers a gem, covering a wide variety of topics sometimes considered taboo. It’s obvious Hopkins cares about not just her characters, but real people who suffer from these kinds of pressures every day. Kendra’s story was perhaps the most disturbing to me, yet was the one I eagerly drank up every time it was her turn in the rotation of alternating chapters. Andre’s story was my least favorite. It just didn’t strike any major chords with me, but that doesn’t make it any less important. His struggles were valid and just as difficult to overcome as the others. I wanted to give Cara a big hug and tell her that I’d be her friend, and Sean… well, Sean made me so angry I wanted to kick him in the nuts.

I really enjoyed Hopkins’ ability to tie the characters in this novel into the events that take place in Impulse. Connor was not a major character in Perfect, but his presence was certainly felt and he made a few appearances that matched Impulse‘s storyline. And, at long last, we finally get to read the letter from Connor’s parents, which was the tipping point that affected many lives (and if you’ve read Impulse, you know what I’m talking about).

Perfect is about a lot more than troubled teens trying to live up to unrealistic expectations. It’s a novel of discovering yourself and becoming who you were meant to be, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. It’s about learning the value of true love, whether it be for another person or yourself, and being willing to let yourself go and succumb to the realization that being true and real on the inside is a lot more important than being perfect on the outside. Gold stars to you, Ms. Hopkins. Not just one, but many.



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