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Book Review: Burned by Ellen Hopkins

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Burned is the story of Pattyn, a teenage girl who lives in a primarily Mormon community in Nevada. Her family adheres to a strict version of Mormonism in which the men are dominant and the women subservient.

Pattyn is one of six female siblings, each named after a male military figure. Her dad is constantly battling demons. With his first wife, he had two sons. One was killed in the military and the other was gay, so he was disowned. These circumstances so hurt his first wife that she killed herself, and now, remarried with so many new children, Pattyn’s dad blames himself and drowns his guilt in liquor. This leads to the continued abuse of Pattyn’s mom.

Pattyn begins to struggle with her own identity her junior year of high school. She knows what is going on at home is wrong, but when she tries to reach out for help, she finds the religious community defends her father. She’s named a liar by her bishop when she speaks about the abuse in hypotheticals, and Pattyn (unknowingly) begins to search for outlets to get away from her home life.

She meets a boy from her school one afternoon when she’s out in the woods to get away from the house, and they begin a romance that consists mainly of drinking and sexual exploration (though no actual intercourse). When her family finds out, she’s considered a problem child and is sent away to live with her aunt for the summer, supposedly as punishment.

Pattyn’s aunt Jeanette is her father’s sister. She, too, was raised in a strict, overbearing Mormon household and knows all too well the deadly lengths her brother will go to keep undesirable males away from good Mormon women. Aunt Jeanette has long since abandoned the church and lives on a ranch in Nevada, a wild and liberating environment that Pattyn comes to love and thrive in.

While at the ranch, Pattyn meets Ethan, a college student who is home for the summer to help is dad. He lives up the road and immediately captures Pattyn’s attention. All summer long, they kindle their romance which gives Pattyn strength and joy she has never known. Aware that going back home is the equivalent to being sent back to prison, Aunt Jeanette and Ethan arm Pattyn with some tools to gain some freedom from her father: a cell phone that Aunt Jeanette is paying for, pre-arranged calls with Ethan and a handgun from Ethan.

I asked a friend of mine who is a member of The Church of Latter Day Saints whether this type of culture was prevalent throughout the church. She had lived in Utah for a while, had been extremely involved in many sectors of the church and even did some mission work. What she told me was that the LDS does not advocate violence in any way, especially against women. In fact, she said that there are systems in place to prevent domestic violence and resources to which women can turn if they are being abused.

So is this a realistic portrait? I think so, as with any religious or political system, there are always interpretations of original doctrine that are more extreme than others. Just look at the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, which still practices polygamy. Though this is not addressed in Burned, American subcultures that adhere to Old World paradigms of male domination are a reality in today's society. My friend's interpretation of the families portrayed in this story was that this seemed to be a closed culture that justified itself by bastardizing the teachings of the church. I tend to agree.

I think that novels like this are important for teenage girls to read. Violence perpetrated against young women is prevalent, yet is not discussed very often. So when it comes from a family member, a friend or even a love interest, many girls don't know what to do. Hopkins' story at least shows that there are people to whom victims of violence can turn and that they are not alone in their experience.

This book was also very interesting to read because the whole story is written in verse; not so much poetry, as you have very little rhyme scheme or symbolism to translate, but each chapter is written in stanzas and verse formats. Some are even concrete poems, where the shape adds to the understanding of what’s going on in that section of the story.

While I wouldn't say that this is a book for adults, as well as teens, it is a great read for anyone who likes the young adult genre. I also think it's a must-read for any teenage girl.

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About Robin Kavanagh

  • Jackie

    I think your Mormon (LDS)friend is right. I’m sure if you look anywhere you’ll find individual families that have poor relations. However, suggesting that the Mormon church leaders would hide it is going a bit far. (If they did they wouldn’t be leaders after it came to light.)

    Also, please keep in mind that the FLDS church has absolutely no ties with the Mormon or LDS church. They’ve been labeled Mormon by the media for religious roots they had over 100 years ago. However, they reject core Mormon teachings and scripture and as such really shouldn’t be labeled Mormon. They do teach that women should be subservient so in their faith this scenario sounds plausible.

  • Robin Kavanagh

    You’re right about the FDLS. I know that they are not officially affiliated with LDS or the Mormon church, but their faith is essentially an offshoot of what Mormonism originally was. Like extreme Christian groups base their beliefs on original Christian teachings, but most moderate churces do not agree with their premises.

    I think the point here is that within just about every religion is an extreme point of view that attracts followers, and can have destructuve consequences. And because the beliefs and culture presented in this story is not how mainstream Mormonism or LDS runs, that’s what makes this an example of a closed community where traditions reign instead of civil law. It was like if anyone outside of their community interfered with how these families run, it was an intrusion and was to be avoided at all costs.

    I think you’ll agree that within any community, there are those who will abuse their power and do anything to keep it, which is why I think that the church leaders in the story were hiding the abuse. The way this community is structured, the men hold all the power. They know if others find out how much power or what was really going on, they’d lose it. So then, it’s in their best interests to hide the corruption. It’s like one big abusive family continuing the cycle.

    I think it’s a natural human paradigm that those who need power to survive will pursue and guard it at all costs. Sad, but true, and you can see it in just about every society. Politicians do it all the time. Burned is just one example of how this occurs in American society and in the name of religion.

  • Tracy Hall Jr

    “You’re right about the FDLS. I know that they are not officially affiliated with LDS or the Mormon church, but their faith is essentially an offshoot of what Mormonism originally was.”

    If you believe that the FLDS represent in any way the original teachings of Mormonism, you are mistaken.

    Twelve of my sixteen great-great-grandparents were among the first generation of converts to the Church, and five of them lived in polygamy. Six of my eight great-grandparents lived in polygamy and painfully split up their families when the revelation to end polygamy was received. But *none* of my four grandparents lived in polygamy, because all of my ancestors were faithful to the true spirit of Mormonism. Those teachings, including polygamy, are not rooted in any dogma but are moderated by continuing revelation, subject to the free will and common consent of the body of the Church.

    There was no male dominance, no wife abuse among my ancestors. There were, of course, the normal difficulties that can occur between husbands and wives, but most of the many family stories that are preserved testify of generally loving and mutually supportive marriages.

    Utah was the first to give women the vote, but Congress took the vote away from all Mormons when it discovered that the supposedly “enslaved” women voted, in secret, much the same way as did their husbands.

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has always taught respect for women. Male dominance has never been tolerated. The FLDS and other apostate groups justify male dominance only by completely distorting what they put forth as “original” teachings. These groups have *nothing* to do with Mormonism, either in its original or modern embodiments.

    [Personal contact info deleted]

  • Madison

    i really liked this book! crank and impulse are a little better i think. im in the middle of glass. it was great but i was dissapointed at the end. i wanted a happy ending :(

  • Jessica

    I personally loved this book. I myself am an inactive member of the LDS church. The female role in no way is less than that of a male. Although, yes, there are some things that men can do that woman can’t, and vice versa. The book itself was really well written. Most definately one of my favorite books. I would definately recommend it, although, if read, please keep an open mind to know that the author’s choice to view the church in this way, does NOT mean that it is really always like this.

  • alxis

    is this book okay for my 11 year old daughter?

  • Robin Matthews

    Alxis,

    I think that all depends on what you want her to read. It is written all in verse, so it’s not your usual read. There is implied sex and overt violence in places. My advice would be to check a copy out of the library, read it yourself, and then decide.

    I would not give this to my 10 year old to read, not because of the sex or violence, but because she wouldn’t understand the motivations and lives of the characters.

    Hope this helps!

  • Cheyenne

    I personally loved this book, a lot. Probably my favorite book by Ellen Hopkins.
    I gotta admit the ending was deffinetly a heartbreaker, but its still amazing.

    [:

  • http://www.myspace.com/silentscreamsxx AmberLin

    i love this book.
    period.

  • Mariahh:)

    is it okay for my little siater to read it? She kinda needs to learn about everything. and i dont know how to tell her, and i think if she reads it will kinda explain it all…

  • Manuela

    I don’t think this book is appropriate for children not in high school yet. Not only is there sex and violence, but the themes are not ones that young children can comprehend. This book deals with deep philisophical questions: What is God? What is God’s view of women? What makes something a sin? What is the right way to live? Does God approve of all love. These are themes I enjoyed reading about, but don’t believe children will.

    Although I don’t feel the book is appropriate for young children, I myself thoroughly enjoyed it. This book is Hopkins’ best. Unlike her other books, “Burned” had a satisfactory ending. By the end of the book, Pattyn has reached rock bottom. There are no “maybe”s. No “what if”s. No hope for Pattyn. This makes for a perfect tragedy. A perfect, beautiful tragedy. The ending is what makes the book so spectacular.

  • Katherine Hyum

    i just wanna say it was a very good book just that i dont understand the ending. so does she end up killing them?

  • peter

    this book helped me come out of the closet

  • kd<3tw

    one when she starts doing things with the boy from school they are not in the woods they are in the desert behind a sand mond.

  • Kristen

    I wish she would write a continuation

  • Robin Kavanagh

    She actually just came out with the final installment of her Crank trilogy.

  • katie

    I’m 14 and I just bought Crank, but is it appropraite for my age? It was in the young adult section, but I’m not so sure if I can read it or not.

  • Ren

    Katie I was 12 when I first read an Ellen Hopkins book. I loved it! it all depends on how well your comprehension and vocabulary skills are (for u to understand the writing period.). But if you are mentally mature enough to handle such an heavily emotional and sexual read then go for it. ps. im also 14

  • aliyah

    best book i ever read handles down!!!

  • wow.

    i just finished it about a half hour ago and I am legitimately sad and angry. I am so disappointed with the ending. I am not against tragic endings but every event in the book was so beautifully described until the last events. They were so briefly thrown in and I was so taken off guard by them. On the other hand, I have never felt such emotion from a book before. I can’t decide if I loved it or hated it. But I don’t think I would recommend it. I don’t know!

    And I definitely don’t think this is appropriate for anyone 14 and under. Just my opinion. I’m 17.

  • gahby

    i love how i spell my name but anyway I LOVE THIS TO DEATH OMG

  • Phyllis

    This book was such a fast read, i almost read it in one sitting! I think its appropriate for kids around 12 or 14 to read, you have to learn about this stuff some how, and what better way then thru such a powerful, truthful novel. I have to admit i loved it right up to the end as well..it was disappointing compared to the rest of the book. But i guess thats how it be if you actually lived that, short, confusing, and depressing.

  • marcelyn

    the book was good no u just had to go and kill ethan if i knew he ws gonna die i wouldnt have read it in the first place :( so dissapointed in the ending . the ending should have been that the dad would get arrested and P and her sisters would live with aunt j and leave the mother behind coz she never cared bout them

  • morgan

    one of her best works but yet again i love all her books and have read all the ones my media center carries.

  • Elicia McMillan

    I love Ellen Hopkins she is my favorite author. Burned is my favorite book EVER. all her books are amazing but this on just kind of gets me i love it so much. I really do recommend it.

  • Girly1996

    I read this book and it was amazing. I can’t wait until smoke comes out in sept. (the sequel to burned)