The readergirlz divas were so pleased Ellen Hopkins could join us in honor of Operation Teen Book Drop 2009, and in the month of April, National Poetry Month! The verse novel Impulse is a weighty, heart-wrenching read. Join us as we chat about this raw work and our take-aways.
Little Willow: Immediately after finishing it: Oh, Conner. Oh.
Dia Calhoun: My immediate impression was that I had found an immensely truthful story.
Shelf Elf: It made me think about how sheltered I was as a teen. Sure there were kids in my high school who had issues and struggled, but nothing like the characters in this book, to my knowledge. I also wondered what it might have been like for Ellen to take herself inside the heads of 3 such troubled people. That had to have been an intense writing experience.
Melissa Walker: My mom worked in a state school for troubled kids while I was in high school. She was their biology teacher, and they lived there, healed there. I thought about her a lot while I was reading, and wondered how she kept her heart safe from the heartbreaking stories of her students.
Lorie Ann: Which character would you like to befriend most? I suppose I'd like to know Tony most of all. He's so resilient, caring, and maintains a joy of life.
Little Willow: I would probably joke around with Tony and try to coax Vanessa out of her shell.
Holly Cupala: I really loved Tony, though I found myself wanting to get to know some of the other peripheral characters, particularly the other patients. What brought them there? Many were unsympathetic, but I wanted to know what had shaped them that way, as we were able to see with Conner, Vanessa, and Tony. They were all so vivid.
Melissa: I choose Tony, too. He had so much love in him after being faced with so much abuse. It was curious to me how Connor's experiences seem somehow "less" traumatic than Tony's, but Connor is the one who gives in to the darkness. Made me think about my own perceptions of what constitutes trauma.
Lorie Ann: Can you think of your moods as colors like Vanessa described her bi-polar experience?
Lorie Ann: I can if the idea is brought to my mind, yet it doesn't happen naturally for me. My lower moments would be black and my higher would be yellow. I do think of people as colors, occasionally. I think of myself as orange.
Shelf Elf: I've never thought of my moods as colors before. If I had to choose, for sure a good mood would be rosy pink and a low mood might be midnight blue or dirty snow gray. (Are those J Crew colors?)
Melissa: I love thinking of moods in terms of colors. But I adore the dirty snow gray that Shelf Elf described -- to me, that is calm and cool and comforting.
Lorie Ann: From your life experiences, can you share differences or similarities in the mental health care depictions?
Lorie Ann: I have visited people in mental health institutions and read about them in other books. Ellen's depictions appear spot on to me. I was exposed to an even tighter control system than these characters underwent. An example is that patients I saw were penalized for positioning their hands as fists.
Lorie Ann: Which character's triumph did you rejoice most in? I have to say Tony again. I believe he came from the furthest point. Don't you?
Shelf Elf: I think you're right Holly, that you can easily connect with Tony, and root for him, because you're invited into his story just that little bit more than with the other two characters. I felt like Vanessa was still pretty fragile at the end of the book, not quite at the "triumphing" stage.
Melissa: Oh, me too! Get me a sequel! I still want to see Connor's parents crack a little bit. I know there's warmth in there somewhere. What happened to them?
Lorie Ann: Have you ever translated your life experiences to therapeutic poetry exercises?
Shelf Elf: I was more of a diary writer growing up. I suppose that's just a different way of putting emotions on the page. It helped to write things down.
Melissa: Oh yes. But these poems were not for sharing. They were of the teenage "Sadness is..." variety (groan). I still love to peek at them sometimes, but I'm slightly embarrassed.
Lorie Ann: Have you ever participated in any kind of wilderness adventure program?
Lorie Ann: No, I haven't! But I think it would be awesome. I can't physically at this point unless a cure for rheumatoid is invented. But that could happen!
Shelf Elf: Can we count the first time I ever went back-country canoe camping with the fella? I think we should count that. It felt like a survival adventure. I did go sea-kayaking in the Queen Charlotte Islands, but we had brownies for dessert most nights, so I don't think that counts either.
Melissa: I did a wilderness ropes course bonding thing with my yearbook staff in high school, but it wasn't as intense as their trek. I did see on MTV's "From G's to Gents" today, though, that the guys had to do a climbing course. It's such a classic metaphor for the changes going on inside during a big transformation.
Lorie Ann: Without giving too much away, were you surprised by the change in Tony? Conner's choice?
Shelf Elf: As the end of the book approached, I could see that Conner's choices seemed to be shrinking, rather than opening up. I could see his ultimate decision coming a bit before it occurred. In some ways, I think that made it even more affecting as a reader, being in the position of watching him sink down and being powerless to do anything about it.
Lorie Ann: Me, too, Shelf Elf. You fear what is coming for Conner, and Ellen didn't shrink back from writing it.
Melissa: The transitions were seamless, so I wasn't surprised while I was reading and progressing with the story. But if you'd have told me at the beginning how it was going to end, I'd have wondered how in the heck we'd get there.
Lorie Ann: Tony surprised me. But I could follow his new revelations.
Lorie Ann: Do you feel like Vanessa will no longer cut herself?
Lorie Ann: I was still a little worried about her.
Melissa: I worry about her cutting too, but she did make progress, so there's hope.
Lorie Ann: Which adult character was the most disappointing or most disliked by you?
Shelf Elf: Conner's mother. She was so cruel and superficial and cold. Kind of the anti-mother. It was hard not to hate her.
Lorie Ann: Same for me, Shelf Elf. ICK! Boo!
Melissa: Ditto. But I also was annoyed by the employee who stared at Vanessa lecherously. That seems extra offensive in a place where people are trying to heal and feel safe.
Lorie Ann: Absolutely, Melissa. *shivers* What are your take-aways from Impulse?
Shelf Elf: One of the biggest take-aways for me is the idea that so often it is the ability to connect with others, even others who are troubled themselves, that can help a person find the way out of a damaging place.
Lorie Ann: I'm charged to reach out, despite seemingly different backgrounds and circumstances. We can help and encourage one another. We can build a support structure even if our traditional one has failed to meet our needs.
Melissa: I'm looking at anger in a new way--searching for the sadness underneath, in myself and in others.
Lorie Ann: Have you ever encountered wildlife like Vanessa when she comes face to face with a deer or when the group stumbles upon the wild Mustangs?
Shelf Elf: I grew up in the country, so I've had lots of wildlife encounters. One of my most vivid childhood memories is the winter morning my sister and I were waiting at the end of our very long driveway for the school bus and this coyote walked out of the woods just down the road from us. It stopped in the middle of the road and stared straight at us for what felt like forever. We were sure it was going to come eat us up, but then he just turned and loped away into a farmer's field.
Lorie Ann: Me, too! I had been touring Alaska for six weeks and never spotted a moose. The last night there, I took a walk alone and crossed paths with a moose and her baby. Thankfully, they simply walked away. Another time I was alone by a river and felt I was being watched. Sitting up and turning around, I found two deer just six feet away staring down at me. What were they thinking? Nothing quite beats an orca whale's eye locked onto me, even though it was through a glass partition. Totally haunting.
Melissa: Oh, yes. I'm not a nature girl, generally, but I've been captivated by the wonder of the hummingbirds in my grandmother's garden, who would fly so close, as long as I sat still.
Lorie Ann: Thanks to the postergirlz and divas for hanging at the roundtable. Like King Arthur's knights. :~) Many thanks to Ellen for bringing honesty and realism to the literary world. How many readers have been touched and helped through her gifts? A multitude!
Special note: In July 2008, we put Jay Asher's novel Thirteen Reasons Why in the spotlight, which led to many serious discussions about suicide prevention. One of our postergirlz, Jackie, then created this list of suicide prevention resources. Since Impulse also deals with the topic of suicide, we wanted to again bring this list to your attention. Download the document.
To learn more about Impulse and author Ellen Hopkins, read the April 2009 issue of readergirlz. After you've read the book, we hope you'll join us at the readergirlz blog to discuss it further.