What would you give up to be perfect? Four teens find out in the New York Times bestselling companion to Impulse.
Everyone has something, someone, somewhere else that they’d rather be. For four high school seniors, their goals of perfection are just as different as the paths they take to get there.
Cara’s parents’ unrealistic expectations have already sent her twin brother Conner spiraling toward suicide. For her, perfect means rejecting their ideals to take a chance on a new kind of love. Kendra covets the perfect face and body—no matter what surgeries and drugs she needs to get there. To score his perfect home run—on the field and off—Sean will sacrifice more than he can ever win back. And Andre realizes that to follow his heart and achieve his perfect performance, he’ll be living a life his ancestors would never understand.
A riveting and startling companion to the bestselling Impulse, Ellen Hopkins’s Perfect exposes the harsh truths about what it takes to grow up and grow into our own skins, our own selves.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Cara Sierra Sykes
do you define a word without
concrete meaning? To each
his own, the saying goes, so
push to attain an ideal
state of being that no two
random people will agree is
you want to be? Faultless.
Finished. Incomparable. People
can never be these, and anyway,
did creating a flawless facade
become a more vital goal
than learning to love the person
lives inside your skin?
The outside belongs to others.
Only you should decide for you—
I’ve lived with the pretense
of perfection for seventeen
years. Give my room a cursory
inspection, you’d think I have OCD.
But it’s only habit and not
obsession that keeps it all orderly.
Of course, I don’t want to give
the impression that it’s all up to me.
Most of the heavy labor is done by
our housekeeper, Gwen. She’s an
imposing woman, not at all the type
that most men would find attractive.
Not even Conner, which is the point.
My twin has a taste for older
women. Before he got himself
locked away, he chased after more
than one. I should have told sooner
about the one he caught, the one
I happened to overhear him with,
having a little afternoon fun.
Okay, I know a psychologist
would say, strictly speaking,
he was prey, not predator.
And in a way, I can’t really
blame him. Emily is simply
stunning. Conner wasn’t the only
one who used to watch her go
running by our house every
morning. But, hello, she was
his teacher. That fact alone
should have been enough warning
that things would not turn out well.
I never would have expected
Conner to attempt the coward’s way
out, though. Some consider suicide
an act of honor. I seriously don’t agree.
But even if it were, you’d have to
actually die. All Conner did was
stain Mom’s new white Berber
carpet. They’re replacing it now.
Mom Stands There Watching
The men work, laying mint
green carpeting over clean beige
padding. Thick. Lush. Camouflage.
I sit on the top stair, unseen.
Invisible. Silent. I might as well
not even be here at all. And
that’s all right. At least I don’t
have to worry that she will focus
her anger on me. Instead she blasts
it toward the carpet guys. Idiots!
You’re scratching the patina!
Her hiss is like a cobra’s spit.
I might want to expose that wood
one day. I can’t if it’s marred.
But she never will. That oak
has been irreparably scarred
blood. And even more by
the intent behind the bullet.
Sprawled on the floor,
Conner wanted to die.
Mom and Dad don’t think
so. In fact, for once they agree
on something besides how bad
their stock portfolios looked
last year. Both of them believe
Conner only wanted attention.
But he was way past hoping
for that, at least the positive
kind. No, Conner was tired
of the pressure. Sick of trying
to find the equation that would
lighten the weight of expectations
not his own. Listening to Mom
tell skilled laborers how to do
their job is almost enough to make
me empathize. The more she goes
on, the more I’m sure the carpet
guys understand. There is no
possible way to satisfy our mother.
I Guess In A Way
I have to give Conner a little
credit. I mean, by putting the gun
to his chest, he made an overt,
if obscene, statement—
I will no longer force myself
inside your prefab boxes. I’d much
rather check out of here than let
you decide the rest of my life.
“You,” meaning Mom and Dad.
The pressure they exert individually
is immense. As a team, it’s almost
impossible to measure up
to their elevated criteria. I have done
my best, pushed myself to the limit.
To get into Stanford, I have had to
ace every test, stand out as a leader
(junior class pres, student council),
excel in sports, serve as a mentor,
take command of extracurricular
pursuits—cheerleading, honor choir,
theater. All around dating Sean.
Sometimes I just want a solo vacation.
Hanging out on a beach, submitting
to the temptation of sand, sun, salt
water, sans UV protection. Who
cares what damage they might
inflict on my skin? Nice dream.
But what would my mother say?
I can hear her now. Don’t be
ridiculous. Who in their right
mind would invite melanoma
and premature aging?
When I look at her, I have
to admit her beauty regime
is working. It’s as if by sheer
force of will she won’t permit
wrinkles to etch her suede
complexion. But I know, deep
down, she is afraid of time. Once
in a while, I see fear in her eyes.
That Fear Isn’t Something
Most people notice. Not Dad,
who’s hardly ever home, and even
when he is, doesn’t really look
at Mom. Or me. Not Conner,
because if he had even once seen
that chink in her fourteen-carat
armor, he’d have capitalized on it.
Not her friends. (I think the term
misrepresents the relationship,
at least if loyalty figures into
what it means to be a friend.)
Book club. Bridge club. Gym
spinners. She maintains a flock
of them. That’s what they remind
me of. Beautiful, pampered birds,
plumage-proud, but blind
to what they drop their shit on.
And the scary thing is, I’m
on a fast track to that same
aviary. Unless I find my wings.
I Won’t Fly Today
Too much to do, despite the snow,
which made all local schools close
their doors. What a winter! Usually,
I love watching the white stuff fall.
But after a month with only short
respites, I keep hoping for a critical
blue sky. Instead, amazing waves
of silvery clouds sweep over the crest
of the Sierra, open their obese
bellies, and release foot upon foot
of crisp new powder. The ski
resorts would be happy, except
the roads are so hard to travel
that people are staying home.
So it kind of boggles the mind
that three guys are laying carpet
in the living room. Just goes to
show the power of money. In less
than an hour, the stain Conner left
on the hardwood will be a ghost.
That Conner left on our lives will
not vanish as easily. I don’t care
about Mom and her birds.
Their estimation of my brother
doesn’t bother me at all. Neither
do I worry about Dad and
what his lobbyist buddies think.
His political clout has not diminished.
As twins go, Conner and I don’t share
a deep affection, but we do have
connection. Not to mention
a crowd of mutual friends. God,
I’ll never forget going to school
the day after that ugly scene.
The plan was to sever the gossip
grapevine from the start with
an obvious explanation—
accident. Mom’s orders were
clear. Conner’s reputation
was to be protected at all costs.
When I arrived, the rumors
had already started, thanks
to our neighbor, Bobby Duvall.
Conner Sykes got hurt.
Conner Sykes was shot.
Conner Sykes is in the hospital.
Is Conner Sykes, like, dead?
I fielded every single question
with the agreed fabrication.
But eventually, I was forced to
concede that, though his wounds
would heal, he was not coming
back to school right away.
Conner Sykes wasn’t dead.
But he wasn’t exactly “okay.”
When People Ask
How he’s doing now, I have
no idea what to say except for,
“Better.” I don’t know if that’s
true, or what goes on in a place
like Aspen Springs, not that any-
one knows he’s there, thank God.
He has dropped off most people’s
radar, although that’s kind of odd.
Before he took this unbelievable
turn, Conner was top rung on our
social ladder. But with his crash
and burn no longer news of the day,
all but a gossipy few have quit
trying to fill in the blanks.
One exception is Kendra, who
for some idiotic reason still
loves him and keeps asking about
him, despite the horrible way he
dumped her. Kendra may be pretty,
but she’s not especially bright.
© 2011 Ellen Hopkins
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to Perfect by Ellen Hopkins
ABOUT THE BOOK
Everyone dreams about the perfect life, but an obsession with perfection can be crippling. Cara Sykes is beautiful, rich, and destined for Stanford. She has the seemingly ideal circumstance; however, unreal parental expectations have already sent her twin brother, Conner, to a psychiatric hospital for attempted suicide, and Cara herself, confused over her sexual identity, is afraid to admit that she is not sexually drawn to her boyfriend, Sean, but rather to Danielle, a girl she meets snowboarding. Her admission will destroy the perfect image her parents have impressed upon her. Sean O’Connell, a baseball star resolute on earning a scholarship to Stanford to be near Cara, pumps iron and takes steroids to become the perfect hitting machine, but the steroids send him into a spiral of rage. Paralleling their relationship is the story of two sisters, Kendra and Jenna Mathieson. Kendra, Conner’s former girlfriend, will do anything to become a supermodel, including starving her 5'10" frame down to a size 2, having rhinoplasty and a breast augmentation, and having sex with older men in the modeling world who promise to take her to the top. Jenna, wounded by living in the shadows of her “perfect” sister, pops pills, drinks, and flaunts her sexuality. Andre Kane, Jenna’s rich boyfriend, does not escape perfectionism—his mother is a plastic surgeon who turns image dreams into reality, and he himself, interested in becoming a professional dancer, fears sharing his passion with his parents because they believe a perfect life includes a financially rewarding career. Driven by expectations, all five teens feel disempowered and fear not living up to expectations. In order to survive, they must find courage to stand up for who they really are.
Is perfection a reality or an unattainable abstraction? Explain.
In what ways do today’s youth feel a need to be perfect?
Is the need for perfection self-imposed or is it caused by external forces? Why are some individuals more driven than others to be perfect? Explain.
How does Cara view her parents? Describe her relationship with them. What happened to her brother, Conner?
Compare and contrast Kendra and Jenna. Are they close? Why or why not?
Why does Kendra’s mother impress the importance of pageants upon Kendra? What effect does the pressure have?
Jenna appears not to be driven by perfection. In fact, she seems to retaliate against her parents’ expectations, but she is self-destructive all the same. Explain.
Why does Jenna take Andre with her to have lunch with her father and his future wife? Why does she not feel good enough for Andre?
Sean begins as a likeable character, but as the story progresses he spins out of control. Why does he have difficulty accepting Cara’s sexuality?
Andre feels special affection for his grandparents. What did he learn about pursuing one’s dreams from his grandfather? How are his decisions affected by his relationship with his grandparents?
Kendra believes “Empty is the perfect state of being” What does she mean? What other characters in the story would agree with her? How might they define empty?
Sean lost his parents at an early age. How might this loss affect his fear of losing Cara? How might it impact his behavior?
Cara says, “Transformation begins—and ends—inside of you.” What accounts for this belief? What does it say about her ability to deal with her parents’ expectations of her?
When Sean learns that Cara is no longer interested in him, he does not want to stop his anger. He says he doesn’t want to stop it “because anger feels better than the pain of losing someone.” Do you agree or disagree? What accounts for Sean’s perspective?
In what way is Cara impacted by her brother’s death? Her parents? What does Sean learn from Conner’s death?
Shantell is a minor character in the story. In what way does she foil Jenna’s personality? What does Andre learn about relationships from Shantell?
One might say Andre finds release in dancing. Explain.
Which character has the most difficult challenges to overcome? Why? Who is the most likely to succeed and why?
Compare and contrast Andre’s mother and Cara’s mother. Which mother is more capable of understanding the damage she may have caused as well as her son’s or daughter’s feelings? Who is more likely to admit she has made parenting mistakes?
How can an emphasis on perfection make an individual believe he/she is not worthy or good enough?
Identify passages for the main characters that illustrate their perspectives on and/or definition of love. Do their beliefs change throughout the story? What accounts for the way they define relationships? Write a short poem from the perspective of one character that illustrates his/her perspective on male/female relationships.
Individuals who have been driven to be perfect often say they are afraid of failure. Why might this fear exist? Is it rational? Interview a family member or another older person about how he/she set goals in high school. What goals did they achieve and what or who influenced the choices they made? What fears did they have? What would they change now if given the chance?
Hopkins’s work is rich in metaphor. Examine the metaphor that begins “Some people say love is fire.” What does this metaphor tell readers about the complexities of love? Find other examples of metaphor in the text and discuss their meaning. Try your hand at writing your own metaphor for perfection.
Research statistics on teens and plastic surgery or steroid use. What trends do you see? What dangers exist for young people who undergo plastic surgery or who use steroids?
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have read all Ellen Hopkins's books & I have truly loved each and every one of them. Can't wait to read more.
I have read all of the Ellen Hopkins books. This one was a little slow in the begginning but as the book went on, it got very intereasting.My favorite character is Sean because he is like a crzy psycho stalker and he always keeps you guessing what is going to happen next.
I have read every single Ellen Hopkins book & I have truly loved each and every one of them. I STRONGLY recommend them! :)
So the begining started slow and it got me a bit confused until i leaened the characters connections. But mid book its like BAM and epic twists and turns. And the end is like OMG. Definitly worth reading. Another win for ellen hopkins! Cant wait for Triangles!
Please read impulse first, the two are so much more impacting when read together
Her books r the best!!! I will cry to death if she stops writing!!! Cant wait for next ones i preorder them all..
ellens books arent just for teens! theyre for everyone!
This was a really great book, it was sad though because there are people/kids with problems like these. The ending was a little disappointing because I feel like they left some peoples ending out but overall great book, hope they make a sequel.
It is a beautifully written story that I guarantee will leave you in tears
This book is totally perfect. It shows you how people may look perfect on the outside but inside their heart and whole body organs are shredding into pieces, like everyone else, they all have a "happy" place they rather be than at home or with boyfriends or friends. If you are looking for a book that will make you learn lessons in life and cry this is it. All I can say is that Perfect by Ellen Hopkins is P-E-R-F-E-C-T
This book is so REAL. It truly related to every single aspect of my life at one point in time. It strongly emltional and has almost evertluthing in it. The beauty the emotion the reality in this book was breathtaking. Please read.
Ellen Hopkins is a phenomenal writer with a storyline that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. Hopkins breaks many social, mental and emotional barriers in "Perfect" and its a must read for teens of all ages.
I couldnt stop reading it!!!
Ellen Hopkins did it again! What a great way for us to get a glimpse of what really goes on in the lives of teens today. Not to mention an easy read with Ellen's writing style! Looking forward to another book soon.
It was really good but i hope she writes another one to go with it because the ending was not the way i wanted it to end.
Was not my favorite book by ellen hopkins but it was still good
A thriller of a novel. Ellen Hopkins writes all of my favorites and this is by far one of her best yet!
I strongly recommend every single on of her books! I read CRANK several years ago and have been addicted to her books ever since!!
I almost screamed when I saw this. Ellen Hopkins hands down is one of my favorite authors. Impulse is my all time favorite book and I can't wait for this! And awesome cover
Ellen Hopkins, Hands down my FAVORITE author! Her books are soo real and true yet with a twist of a little fantisy. Reading her books take you too your own world and you will never want to put her books down. I cannot wait for this book because it looks amazing and I wish with all my heart that I didn't have to wait til August to red it! <3
Impulse was simply amazing and this one is going to be like it then i will surely love it and i recommend it for anyone to read.
She moans help him out daddy
I really like this book, it provides great insight as to the lives of seemingly perfect teens who are actually super messed up and I especially found Kendra interesting, an aspiring model who had developed a eating disorder.