Sometimes you don't wake up. But if you happen to, you know things will never be the same.
Three lives, three different paths to the same destination: Aspen Springs, a psychiatric hospital for those who have attempted the ultimate act—suicide.
Vanessa is beautiful and smart, but her secrets keep her answering the call of the blade.
Tony, after suffering a painful childhood, can only find peace through pills.
And Conner, outwardly, has the perfect life. But dig a little deeper and find a boy who is in constant battle with his parents, his life, himself.
In one instant each of these young people decided enough was enough. They grabbed the blade, the bottle, the gun—and tried to end it all. Now they have a second chance, and just maybe, with each other's help, they can find their way to a better life—but only if they're strong and can fight the demons that brought them here in the first place.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
a highway, the only road
you've ever known,
and wham! A semi
comes from nowhere
and rolls right over you.
you don't wake up.
But if you happen
to, you know things
will never be
no rhyme, no reason,
for a passing semi.
intersect at a place
no reasonable person
would ever want to go.
lives that would have
been cut short, if not
for hasty interventions
by loved ones. Or Fate.
people, with nothing
at all in common
except age, proximity,
and a wish to die.
at the edges and come
unwoven to reveal
a single mutual thread.
you could turn off
the questions, turn
off the voices,
turn off all sound.
to close out
the ugliness, close
out the filthiness,
close out all light.
to cast away
cast away all jeopardy.
you could somehow stop
the uncertainty, somehow
stop the loathing,
somehow stop the pain.
The glass doors swing open,
in perfect sync, precisely
timed so you don't have
to think. Just stroll right in.
I doubt it's quite as easy
to turn around and walk
back outside, retreat to
unstable ground. Home turf.
An orderly escorts me down
spit-shined corridors, past
tinted Plexiglas and closed,
unmarked doors. Mysteries.
One foot in front of the other,
counting tiles on the floor so
I don't have to focus the blur
of painted smiles, fake faces.
A mannequin in a tight blue
suit, with a too-short skirt
(and legs that can wear it),
in a Betty Boop voice halts us.
I'm Dr. Boston. Welcome to
Aspen Springs. I'll give you
the tour. Paul, please take his
things to the Redwood Room.
Aspen Springs. Redwood Room.
As if this place were a five-star
resort, instead of a lockdown
where crazies pace. Waiting.
It doesn't have a hospital
stink. Oh yes, it's all very
clean, from cafeteria chairs
to the bathroom sink. Spotless.
But the clean comes minus
the gag-me smell, steeping
every inch of that antiseptic
hell where they excised
the damnable bullet. I
wonder what Dad said when
he heard I tried to put myself
six feet under -- and failed.
I should have put the gun
to my head, worried less
about brain damage, more
about getting dead. Finis.
Instead, I decided a shot
through the heart would
make it stop beating, rip
it apart to bleed me out.
I couldn't even do that
right. The bullet hit bone,
left my heart in one piece.
In hindsight, luck wasn't
with me that day. Mom
found me too soon, or my
pitiful life might have ebbed
to the ground in arterial flow.
I thought she might die too,
at the sight of so much blood
and the thought of it staining
her white Armani blouse.
Conner, what have you done?
she said. Tell me this was just
an accident. She never heard
my reply, never shed a tear.
Much after that, except
for speed. Ghostly red lights,
spinning faster and faster,
as I began to recede from
through the ER doors,
frenzied motion. A needle's
sting. But I do remember,
just before the black hole
swallowed me, seeing Mom's
face. Her furious eyes
followed me down into sleep.
It's a curious place, the
Land of Blood Loss and
Anesthesia, floating through it
like swimming in sand. Taxing.
After a while, you think you
should reach for the shimmering
surface. You can't hold your
breath, and even if you could,
it's dark and deep and bitter
cold, where nightmares and truth
collide, and you wonder if death
could unfold fear so real. Palpable.
So you grope your way up into
the light, to find you can't
move, with your arms strapped
tight and overflowing tubes.
And everything hits you like
a train at full speed. Voices.
Strange faces. A witches' stewpot
of smells. Pain. Most of all,
A new guy check in. Tall,
built, with a way fine face,and acting too tough to tumble.
He's a nutshell asking to crack.Wonder if he's ever let a guy
touch that pumped-up bod.
They gave him the Redwood
Room. It's right acrossfrom mine -- the Pacific
Room. Pretty peaceful inhere most of the time, long
as my meds are on time.
Ha. Get it? Most of the time
if my meds are on time. If youdon't get it, you've never
been in a place like this,never hung tough from one
med call till the next.Wasted. That's the only way
to get by in this "treatmentcenter." Nice name for a loony
bin. Everyone in here is crazyone way or another. Everyone.
Even the so-called doctors.
Most of 'em are druggies.
Fucking loser meth freaks.I mean, if you're gonna
purposely lose your mind,you want to get it back some
day. Don't you? Okay, maybe not.
A long time ago, but it
wasn't exactly my idea.Shit happens, as they say,
and my shit literally hitthe fan. But enough sappy
crap. We were talking drugs.
I won't tell you I never tried
crystal, but it really wasn'tmy thing. I saw enough
people, all wound up, dropover the edge, that I guess
I decided not to take that leap.
I always preferred creeping
into a giant, deep hole whereno bad feelings could follow.
At least till I had to come upfor air. I diddled with pot first, but
that tasty green weed couldn't dragme low enough. Which mostly
left downers, "borrowed" frommedicine cabinets and kitchen
cabinets and nightstands.Wherever I could find them.
And once in a while -- not often,
because it was pricey and tough
to score -- once in a while, Itumbled way low, took a ride
on the H train. Oh yeah,that's what I'm talking about.
A hot shot clear to hell.
Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Hopkins
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
ABOUT THE BOOK
Conner, Vanessa, and Tony have all three landed in Aspen Springs, a psychiatric hospital. Conner has the seemingly perfect life: he is handsome and rich, and he is a star athlete and excels in academics. Despite having everything most teens would die for, Conner is at constant odds with his mother. She is cold, concerned with image and perfection, and forever critical. Conner is unable to cope with her criticism and his feelings of inadequacy. Vanessa is a copper-haired beauty but, like her mother, is manic depressive. Her father, a soldier, is both physically and emotionally absent, leaving Vanessa’s grandmother to raise her. Dumped by a boyfriend who can no longer deal with her mood swings, and haunted by feelings of guilt for not calling 911 when her mother overdosed on Xanax, Vanessa finds relief in cutting. Tony is angry with his father for leaving him to grow up in poverty with his mother, a prostitute who exposes him to men who sexually abuse him. Tony finds a friend in an older man, Phillip, who dies shortly after they meet. When Tony meets Vanessa, he begins questioning his gay identity. Desperate to end the emotional pain, all three attempt suicide: Conner grabs a gun, Vanessa slashes her wrist, and Tony downs a bottle of pills. Having survived their suicide attempts, all three must confront their own demons if they are to emerge mentally stable. Forging new friendships and participating in therapy, sometimes with family members, provides a support structure, but will all three have the strength to step beyond their pasts? A wilderness challenge tests their ability to work as a team and to confront life experiences.
Talk about a time in which you acted on impulse. Did you make a good decision? What regrets, if any, do you have?
Describe a time in which you thought about acting on impulse, but you held back. What made you pause? Did you make the right decision by waiting? Explain.
Why are impulses difficult to control?
Conner, Vanessa, and Tony have different life experiences. What brings each to Aspen Springs? How are the three alike? How are they different?
Conner, Vanessa, and Tony have unique relationships with their parents. Describe the relationship each has with his/her mother and his/her father.
Both Conner and Tony are angry. Conner is angry with his mother, and Tony is angry with his father. What accounts for their rage? How does each young man deal with his anger differently?
Vanessa shows more depression than rage and finds release through cutting on herself. How does cutting help Vanessa feel better?
Discuss Conner’s relationship with Emily. Why is Conner so devastated over the loss of this relationship? What might the loss have to do with Conner’s relationship with his own mother?
Why does Conner tell Vanessa he is poison?
Is Dr. Boston attracted to Conner or is the attraction in Conner’s imagination? Support your response with examples.
Describe Tony’s relationship with Phillip. Why is Phillip so special to Tony? Might Tony’s relationship with Phillip be different if Tony had been close to his father growing up? Explain.
Vanessa learns that she loves both Conner and Tony, but her love is different for each. Explain.
What stands in the way of Conner’s ability to heal? Why is his path to recovery more difficult than Tony’s or Vanessa’s?
All three characters search for the meaning of love. What experiences has each character had that led to confusion about love? What does each learn about love?
Conner, Tony, and Vanessa participate in a wilderness challenge. What purpose is this adventure supposed to serve in their healing process?
Impulse ends with both hope and tragedy. Explain. How is this ending fitting, given what you learn and come to understand about the three central characters?
Comparing Tony and Vanessa, which character is more likely to heal and lead a productive and healthy life? Why?
A girl’s most important relationship as she grows up is often said to be with her father, whereas a boy’s is often said to be with his mother. Keeping this idea in mind, compare and contrast Vanessa’s relationship with her father with that of Conner and his mother. What impact do these relationships have on the way Vanessa and Conner view their futures?
Why is Impulse a just title for this book?
Choose an aspect of teen suicide to research, and prepare a class presentation. Topics to consider might include: the causes and warning signs of teen suicide, who is more susceptible to suicide and why, avenues available for teens who are living with emotional pain, and how teens can offer support and assistance to friends who are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Investigate local help for troubled teens and prepare a repository of information for your school/community. What psychiatric help is available in your community? What resources are available in schools? Decide on a format for the repository and develop/implement a plan for distributing the information to teens, parents, and guardians. (You might choose traditional brochure literature and/or you might choose to construct web-based resource sites.)
Organize a series of speakers to come to your school/community to discuss with teens, parents, teachers, and others the issues and pressures that today’s teens face and ways of helping young people deal with difficult life situations.
Raise community awareness for troubled teens by identifying an organization that helps teens in crisis and organize a fund-raising initiative for that organization.
Research a successful hotline or help center for teens, then explore the possibility of developing a hotline for troubled teens in your community should one not exist. What resources would be needed for the hotline to become operational? What policies and procedures need to be developed and enforced? What funding would be required to make a help center/hotline functional?
Research successful summer programs for troubled teens. Prepare a handout, brochure, or website on summer programs, including summer wilderness programs, and share with others.
Guide prepared by Pam B. Cole, Professor of English Education & Literacy, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.