Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review: Triangles by Ellen Hopkins

In this emotionally powerful novel, three women face the age-old midlife question: If I’m halfway to death, is this all I’ve got to show for it? Holly, filled with regret for being a stay-at-home mom, sheds sixty pounds and loses herself in the world of extramarital sex. Andrea, a single mom and avowed celibate, watches her friend Holly’s meltdown with a mixture of concern and contempt. Holly is throwing away what Andrea has spent her whole life searching for—a committed relationship with a decent guy. So what if Andrea picks up Holly’s castaway husband? Then there’s Marissa. She has more than her fair share of challenges—a gay teenage son, a terminally ill daughter, and a husband who buries himself in his work rather than face the facts. As one woman’s marriage unravels, another one’s rekindles. As one woman’s family comes apart at the seams, another’s is reconfigured into something bigger and better. In this story of connections and disconnections, one woman’s up is another one’s down, and all three of them will learn the meaning of friendship, betrayal, and forgiveness before it is through.

Available from Amazon, Book Depository, Chapters, Simon and Schuster Canada

When starting to discuss Ellen Hopkins, the first thought is about her writing style. While it is not new to the world at large, it was a new reading experience for me. Sure, it's in a poetic form, but she tells a narrative tale, even incorporating titles into the main stream of the story, giving the impression (and rightfully so) that constant care has been put into every line; every page.

One particular font is used in the telling of each woman's part until the point of view is about to change. At this precipice between character POV's, there would be a breakdown of sorts. Hopkins moves into a more abstract thought to sum up what she'd just written. I found this served an effective method to withdraw the reader, temporarily, from the intense emotions of each "chapter"; a carefully placed pause to allow the reader time to regroup. And, visually, with each turn of the page, you never knew what the next one would look like. This made for an artful, fascinating reading adventure.

Format and style aside, I was emotionally invested in the story from the very beginning, with her portrayal of a disgruntled wife, a mother with an ailing child, and a lonely single mother. Before page 50, I could barely bring myself to read Marissa's story (the mother with the sick child). The anticipation alone of what might happen in each of her "chapters" was enough to reduce me to tears. Considering the relatively small number of words used to this point, they were chosen and positioned so well as to offer the reader maximum impact....eliciting full on waterworks.

Triangles  touches on so many aspects of life that (modern) women are exposed to: extra marital affairs, lesbian dalliances, mundane jobs, the destruction of the family unit when one member is terminal. But Hopkins doesn't stop there. She takes Holly (the unhappy wife) on a crazy ride of sexual exploration that was shocking but, at the same time, maybe something that happens more than is talked about in general public. Holly was allowed, in her part of the narrative, an inner freedom that most people merely dream about, regardless of the form her freedom was realized in.

This book is, at times, a vivid contrast between a teen's who-likes-who-better to the all out complicated mess that life becomes twenty plus years down the road, due in part to inattention, boredom, or unavoidable circumstance. Nearing the end of the book, it feels like the "story" of each woman will never end, much like life itself with its myriad of ups and downs. But, Hopkins finds adequate words to summarize each woman's conclusion fairly and with hope for the future.

The biggest message that I personally took from Triangles  is best described with Hopkins' own words (from page 345 of the ARC):

"Only there's this. Changing
even the smallest moment means
every single thing about my life would
no doubt be different. Everything.

Different isn't necessarily better."

Triangles  is a story that speaks to all women, in one way or another. It has been stunningly created, full of heart and harsh truths, all of the elements coming together equally in this spectacular book.


Mel (He Followed Me Home) said...

That quote is powerful and oh so true! Sometimes the only way to know is to try something new though LOL. And it made you cry,you never do that :o

Jackie said...

It's really one thing to have regrets, but if life is better now than it was back then (I think you know what I'm talking about), then wishing you could change it all is pointless, right? And trying something new is definitely good, though you'd be blushing at what Holly did, lol. I cried like a baby a few times....

Ellen Hopkins said...

Thanks so much, Jackie. Appreciate the fantastic review.

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