Ellen Hopkins is known for writing unflinchingly about tough subjects in many teen novels in verse. As a teen, I remember picking up her chunky books at the library and reading them out of sight of my younger sisters so they wouldn’t pick them up and start reading them. With Closer to Nowhere, Hopkins gives us a story that isn’t near as graphic as her previous books, but still delivers a story that focuses on how tough life can be and what we do to survive certain situations.
Cousins Cal and Hannah may have one thing in common–their mothers were twin sisters. Other than that, their worlds couldn’t be more different…until Cal moves in with Hannah’s family after his mom passes away. All of a sudden Hannah’s world is changed, as is Cal’s. Hannah has never had a problem making friends at school or getting good grades, but Cal is a different story and rightfully so. He has never had an easy life and the loss of his mother exacerbates the emotional and behavioral ways he responds to life around him.
Like its predecessors, this book is told in verse, which gives it somewhat of a gentler feel than a typical book. However, some tough subjects are brought up, such as Cal’s dad and his past, and how kids at school treat Cal, and they land just as powerfully as they would in any other narrative. Both Cal and Hannah voice their experiences in alternating parts, and I really appreciated how as a reader, I was able to get both of their perspectives and see how something Cal did might make Hannah angry, but he was only acting out of his past lived experiences.
I think this is an important book for tweens and teens to pick up and read, as it gives a glimpse into the life of a somewhat privileged girl alongside that of a boy who has had more negative life experiences than good, and how these differences shape their view of life and how they react to different situations. This short book is very eye-opening and informative without being too serious, and will keep readers engaged throughout the entire story.
Review of a Digital Advance Reading Copy
This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by Penguin Young Readers Group
Violence/Gore: A boy is repeatedly bullied, verbally threatened and called names by his classmates; parents yell around their child and get in heated arguments; a woman is mentioned to die from cancer; a boy recalls his dad getting arrested for armed robbery; a boy tells a story about getting kidnapped; report is made of a man getting angry and hitting his son and wife; a brief report of a man coming home with a stolen gun; a report is made of a man beating his wife badly; a report is made of a young boy observing a verbal and physical fight between his parents and the resulting bruises, shoving, hitting, and mom getting in a car and running over the dads foot; a man makes a threat with a loaded gun; a brief scene occurs where a minor boy experiences an armed robbery; a man pulls a gun in a school and a lockdown occurs, the gun is fired in one brief scene and a teacher is said to have been hit in the shoulder with a bullet; CPS is reported to be called and looking into bruises seen on a child; a boy is mentioned to have been locked in a closet while his dad drank and did drugs.
Sex/Nudity: Girls talk about boys they find attractive; a husband and wife kiss.
Mature Subject Matter:
Death; loss of a loved one; cancer; abandonment; homelessness; trauma; divorce; PTSD; robbery; kidnapping; addiction; abuse.
Alcohol / Drug Use:
Father of a young child is mentioned to use drugs; beer is consumed by adults; a character is mentioned to drink too much wine; a woman is mentioned to be an alcoholic; a man is mentioned to steal money in order to buy drugs.