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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

#1 New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkins's poignant middle grade novel in verse about coming to terms with indelible truths of family and belonging. For the most part, Hannah's life is just how she wants it. She has two supportive parents, she's popular at school, and she's been killing it at gymnastics. But when her cousin Cal moves in with her family, everything changes. Cal tells half-truths and tall tales, pranks Hannah constantly, and seems to be the reason her parents are fighting more and more. Nothing is how it used to be. She knows that Cal went through a lot after his mom died and she is trying to be patient, but most days Hannah just wishes Cal never moved in. For his part, Cal is trying his hardest to fit in, but not everyone is as appreciative of his unique sense of humor and storytelling gifts as he is. Humor and stories might be his defense mechanism, but if Cal doesn't let his walls down soon, he might push away the very people who are trying their bes…

Closer to Nowhere

by Ellen Hopkins

Overall Book Review:

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

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language:  None 

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.

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

Books and reading have always been an important part of my life. When I was very young, my grandma was the library director at our local public library. Years later, after she had retired, I became a librarian at the same library and worked there for several years before taking a part-time job at a local coffee shop, which gives me more time to do what I love, to read and to review books! A few of my favorite authors are Aimee Bender, Diane Chamberlain, and Curtis Sittenfeld however, I will read almost any book I come across! In my spare time you can find me reading (of course), volunteering at a wildlife animal rehab, or hanging out with my two house rabbits.