Author: Ellen Hopkins
Genre: YA Contemporary/LGBTQIA
Page Count: 608
“time to leap
from the nest,
even if it means
a crash landing or two.”
For as long as she can remember, it’s been just Ariel and Dad. Ariel’s mom disappeared when she was a baby. Dad says home is wherever the two of them are, but Ariel is now seventeen and after years of new apartments, new schools, and new faces, all she wants is to put down some roots. Complicating things are Monica and Gabe, both of whom have stirred a different kind of desire.
Maya’s a teenager who’s run from an abusive mother right into the arms of an older man she thinks she can trust. But now she’s isolated with a baby on the way, and life’s getting more complicated than Maya ever could have imagined.
In bestselling author Ellen Hopkins’s deft hands, Ariel’s emotionally charged journey to find out the truth of who she really is balances beautifully with Maya’s story of loss and redemption. This is a memorable portrait of two young women trying to make sense of their lives and coming face to face with themselves—for both the last and the very first time.
THOUGHTS (TW: Parental abuse, sexual abuse)
The You I’ve Never Known is not a happy book. It is an emotional, twisted, and heart wrenching story of love, family, and discovering who you are. As powerful of a story as it is, it didn’t come without flaws, which disappointed me quite a bit. This was also my first Ellen Hopkins book, and although it wasn’t my favorite, I’m glad I finally read one of her stories.
The story is centered around our main protagonist, Ariel, and her journey of discovering her sexuality while constantly moving around the country with her father. Her and her dad have finally settled down in one place long enough for Ariel to make some friends, including her best friend Monica. Ariel’s struggle with her feelings for Monica and her friend Gabe leave her confused, and distanced from her homophobic father. Her journey is one I’m sure many can relate to, and she is confused on what to believe… what’s she’s been told, or what she is feeling.
Ariel’s story is far from unemotional, but I did have trouble truly connecting with her character and thoughts. If you’ve never read a Hopkins book before, they are told in a poetry/prose format. This allows for you to fly through these intimidating sized books, and it definitely increases the emotional impact. I also found some sections of Ariel’s story extremely unsettling. There are so many homophobic slurs and remarks throughout the pages, that it was difficult to continue with at times. Yes, some of this comes from the other characters that are in Ariel’s life, but I could also feel some leeching through the author’s writing. There are mentions of physical abuse and an attempted rape. While these events do contribute to Ariel’s development, I’m curious how many terrible things actually needed to be done to this character.
There are also snippets of Maya’s story throughout the book. These sections are much less abundant than Ariel’s, and are told in a journal format. Personally, I felt much more drawn to Maya’s story than Ariel’s. I simply found her story more fascinating and unique. While there wasn’t much of it, the story had direction, which is one aspect Ariel’s was missing. I was constantly looking forwards to the next update on Maya rather than reading what felt like the same thing over and over from Ariel.
Throughout all of that, the main aspect of the story is the intertwining of the two protagonists stories. While this was nice to see at the end, it took a long time to get to this part. The middle of this book dragged so much, I had to truly push myself through the middle and end of the story. Since the book centered around Ariel’s indecision about her sexuality, it lacked a certain momentum that keeps the reader hooked. Of course stories about self discovery are extremely important and I will always vouch for them, but the book needs a visible plot line. Over time, things grew monotonous. There was also an insane amount of lead up to the big plot twist (which the Goodreads blurb spoils and I’ve conveniently left out for you), that the actual unveil felt a little… meh.
My feelings towards this book are quite conflicted. On one hand, I enjoyed it immensely because of how emotionally raw and powerful it is. However, on the other hand I found it to drag on and become dull, with not the most appealing protagonist for the majority of the novel. It also highlights the cruelty that so many children and teenagers are put through my their own family, most of which I’ve been lucky not to experience myself. Part of the reason why I read is so I can learn about tragic things such as parental abuse, but it also such a difficult topic to read and handle. I applaud Hopkins for tackling such a monumental topic, and executing it well.
Overall, The You I’ve Never Known is a book of loss and love. It’s a book that has the potential to change many people’s lives, although it doesn’t come without a few flaws. I’m sure if you’re already a Hopkins fan that you’ll love this book, but if you’re not you can still definitely give this one a try. If you’re in the mood for a book to break your heart, I highly recommend you give this a go. If you don’t like to cry while reading, you may want to pass on this book.