Burned [Burned, #1] by Ellen Hopkins

Raw and unflinchingly honest
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Burned
by Ellen Hopkins
Margaret K. McElderry Books | Paperback, 531 pages
Written in verse form, Burned is the story of a Mormon girl who started to question a religion that validates domestic abuse as a way for a man to keep his “woman in line”. As if blood, bruises and broken bones will stop her from committing the gravest of sins (like existing or breathing). It’s a window to a rigid religion that – true or not, whether unfounded or justified – is truly harsh and frighteningly real. Sadly, this is an occurence that happens everyday and not just in the seemingly pristine communes of Mormonism but everywhere else in the world.

In a way, and through books, I’ve seen Mormons on either side of the spectrum. Taken by Storm by Angela Morrison, for example, made me open the door when they come knocking to spread the word (seriously). Here, LDS practitioners are portrayed as the most kind-hearted, generous, honest, proclaimers of God’s love. But Hopkins’ book shows what happens when the doors are closed. What we see are humans battling demons in their heads, indescribable violence against loved ones, and the painstaking methods they’d go through to live the lies.

But what spearheaded the story was a teen’s sexual awakening that she thinks is a sin. A dream of being touched, of being kissed by the most popular boy in school. It all seems harmless enough but not if you’re a Mormon. Pre-marital sex is frowned upon in Catholicism as it is in LDS. When one of the popular boys in school starts paying Pattyn attention, she was in awe and more than a bit willing to make that dream into a reality. He plied her with alcohol and drugs, taking advantage of Pattyn’s hunger for attention from the opposite sex. Soon enough, the dream becomes a nightmare when her father caught them in the act together.

Pattyn’s story didn’t really start until she was shipped off to Aunt J’s ranch. A few weeks in, hope, peace and happiness begins to bloom in her chest. Aunt J is a kindred spirit who left the religion by circumstances similar to Pattyn’s; she meets Ethan, a boy who looks at her without the prejudice of her past. But if you’re familiar with Ellen Hopkins’ works, you know it’s rare for her characters to be basking in the glow of happiness. Sooner or later, she’ll let you know that there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Nor would her characters have a happy ending. She’ll only give you enough glimmer of hope until you’re sucked in the vortex of angst that she’s created.

This book was my introduction to Ellen’s works. It was raw, honest and harsh. Her words, though sparse, said so much – showed too much. Flesh hitting flesh, cracking bones with each blows and crimson blood so red you’ll be seeing it when you close your eyes. Emotions so real you’ll feel every crushing pressure in your chest. Anger, fear and love. And most of all, that frustrating question that will tumble over and over in your head.

Why?

That’s the power of Hopkins’ words.