Quick review for a quick read. As per usual, Ellen Hopkins’ works tend to feel like I’ve ran a sheer emotional gauntlet. The experience leaves me winded in the aftermath (in a good way). How does someone describe the whirlwind that is this novel? It’s hard not to be drawn into it because you get so connected to the emotional journeys of the character within, how complex and complicated they are, and even hoping that – in the end – things turn out the best . I’ll admit I saw the twists in the relationship between these protagonists coming, but even with that the “Aha!” moment felt satisfying to watch as the stories came together.
So: “The You I’ve Never Known” is largely a story about identity and the process of coming to terms with it. This happens multi-fold in the case of Ariel, a young woman who’s spent most of her life on the run with her father. She’s 17 years old and has never stayed in one place for too long, been in the go-betweens of her father and his numerous relationships that seem to come and go as the need arises. When I say need – well, it means a roof, food, booze, and sex in the case of the father. Ariel’s father is a horrible douche, and this novel doesn’t flinch at showing his flaws, but also the complicated relationship Ariel has with him. There are many times when she loves him and stays, but others where he abuses and uses her and she wants nothing more than to go.
But Ariel finally finds a place where she feels wanted, between relationships as she is a bisexual woman exploring relationships with a boy (Gabe) and a Latina girl (Monica). So things quickly become complicated as Ariel realizes she wants to finally give herself a grounded place (a steady job, to be able to have a car on her own, etc.)
The narrative trades spaces with Maya’s narrative (distinguished between Ariel’s narrative in prose form. Ariel’s narration is in the form of poetry.) Maya is a woman who’s escaped an abusive mother in Scientology and seeks a relationship with a man who’s in the miliary, but certain events play out that complicate the relationship between Maya, her husband, and the baby named Casey whom Maya writes to in her entries.
I won’t spoil too much more in terms of the story’s events, but it definitely felt like it packed a lot of events and conflict into one story (9/11, homophobia, struggles with bisexuality/sexual identity, abusive relationships, gaslighting, etc.). That not to say that the experience doesn’t read smoothly, I read this in a matter of about 3 hours or so and didn’t put down the book once. Yet, there were parts of the story that I definitely feel like could’ve used more distinct ties and resolutions and somehow that left a bit of a void and an aching for certain character ties to be more intimate (though the character connections and establishments were solid for the most part).
I think this is as strong of an addition to Hopkins’s bibliography as any of her works and I enjoyed the experience. I also recognize how brave it was for her to write this narrative given that portions of it were based on true events. Overall, I’d certainly re-read this narrative and thought it was well worth the time spent.
Overall score: 4/5 stars.