“Raised in a religious – yet abusive – family, Pattyn Von Stratten starts asking questions – about God, a woman’s role, love. She experiences the first stirrings of change and adulthood, but when her father catches her in a compromising situation, events spiral out of control. Pattyn is sent to live with an aunt in the wilds of Nevada to find salvation and redemption. What she finds instead is love and acceptance – until she realizes that her old demons will not let her go.”
-Burned by Ellen Hopkins
At the moment, my English 4 class is working on our second reading challenge that has been assigned this school year. When introduced to this assignment, our class was encouraged to branch out from our comfort zones and attempt to read a piece of literature that is different than what we have experienced before. I was in the process of looking for books from an array of separate genres when my close friend recommended the story Burned by Ellen Hopkins.
What is extremely unique about this piece of literature is that it is a realistic fiction story, yet it is told through a short, almost poetic form of writing. This type of writing style is the most intriguing aspect about the book due to it telling a complete story, yet through collections of poems. I congratulate Ellen Hopkins on possessing the ability to create a story plot through an entirely different writing genre. By reading a story like this, it has forced me to step out of my comfort zone because it is introducing me to a book genre and writing style that I have not reading before. So far, I am really enjoying how the author is building the story plot through the poems and how she is structuring each of the individual pieces within the book.
The main character and perspective of the book is from a young, teenage girl by the name of Pattyn. Like stated in the synopsis above, Pattyn is displaying the lives of many individuals growing up in strict Mormon (more specifically: Latter-Day Saints) households. In this particular case, the Von Stratten household is wearing a thick mask, seeming to have everything together externally, yet the family doesn’t dare share their darkest secrets that lie within. Pattyn must struggle with the daily trials and tribulations of simply being a teenager and dealing with the horrors of her home life.
“Dad staggered in, eyes eerily lit.
The corners of his mouth foaming spit.
His demons planned an overnight stay.
Mom motioned to take the girls away,
hide them in their rooms, safe in their beds.
We closed the doors, covered our heads,
as if the blankets could mute the sounds of his blows
or we could silence her screams behind out pillows.
I hugged the littlest ones close to my chest,
till the beat of my heart lulled them to rest.
Only then did I let myself cry.
Only then did I let myself wonder why
Mom didn’t fight back, didn’t defend,
didn’t confess to family or friend.
Had Dad’s demons claimed her soul?
Or was this, as well, a woman’s role?” (64)
I am about 5/6th of the way through Burned, so I am beginning to gather bits and pieces of what I think the lesson or purpose of this story is. At this moment, I believe that Ellen Hopkins is trying to portray that you don’t have to become a product of what you see in your surroundings. Pattyn is surrounded by something that doesn’t make her happy and is a burden to her, causing her to gradually become more and more troubled. The author is telling readers to branch out and do things differently for yourself – be unique, take the risk, make mistakes and learn from them. You will never know what the outcome of the situation will be, so keep a positive and optimistic outlook on life and persevere. It can take you a long way and bring you to more than you could have ever expected.
So far, I am really enjoying Burned by Ellen Hopkins. It is so interesting that its extremely difficult to put down. What I find most compelling about this story is the character of Pattyn and how she possesses the ability to push past all the negativity that is thrown at her. Readers are able to watch as she gradually starts to do the right things for herself. In addition, the audience are able to see the growth and death of love and how complex and fragile sharing your love truly is because “Real love finds you once, if you’re lucky” (229).