Perfect

By ELLEN HOPKINS

Three years ago, a writer at the publishing website Mediabistro pointed out that Ellen Hopkins, now the author of eight young adult novels written in verse, might be America’s bestselling living poet. Whether or not this is true — it may well be — the author’s official biography now proudly sports the title.

Hopkins doesn’t traffic much in rhyme or meter; the most distinctive aspects of her verse are tricky line breaks (i.e., setting off words in the far margin to create a new sentence, such as “love is a deadly weapon”) and formidably thick novels (this one runs to over 600 pages, though it can be read in a long afternoon). The viewpoint in Perfect alternates between four Nevada teens all trying to live up to the condition announced by the title: Kendra’s “vanilla hair and glacier blue eyes” have kept her on the pageant circuit, but she decides that becoming a runway model will require losing dangerous amounts of weight, a rhinoplasty, and, perplexingly, breast implants (is Hopkins thinking Vogue or Victoria’s Secret?).  

Meanwhile, Andre Marcus Kane III can’t let his wealthy, educated African-American parents know that he really wants to be a dancer, not a banker. Sean thinks of himself as “Built,” “like a builder/frames a house,” though the steroids probably help. Cara, whose twin brother has recently attempted suicide, sees her mother and her friends as “beautiful, pampered birds, / plumage-proud, but blind / to what they drop their shit on” and fears she is bound for the “same aviary. Unless I find my wings.”

Sexting, stalking, anorexia, and drug use ensue; but throughout, Hopkins works to maintain a delicate touch, especially with a lesbian coming-out narrative, that keeps some — though not all — of the dramas away from easy clichés.

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