I do know things really began to spin out of control after my first sex dream.
It all started with a dream. Nothing exceptional, just a typical fantasy about a boy, the kind of dream that most teen girls experience. But Pattyn Von Stratten is not like most teen girls. Raised in a religious -- yet abusive -- family, a simple dream may not be exactly a sin, but it could be the first step toward hell and eternal damnation.
This dream is a first step for Pattyn. But is it to hell or to a better life? For the first time Pattyn starts asking questions. Questions seemingly without answers -- about God, a woman's role, sex, love -- mostly love. What is it? Where is it? Will she ever experience it? Is she deserving of it?
It's with a real boy that Pattyn gets into real trouble. After Pattyn's father catches her in a compromising position, events spiral out of control until Pattyn ends up suspended from school and sent to live with an aunt she doesn't know.
Pattyn is supposed to find salvation and redemption during her exile to the wilds of rural Nevada. Yet what she finds instead is love and acceptance. And for the first time she feels worthy of both -- until she realizes her old demons will not let her go. Pattyn begins down a path that will lead her to a hell -- a hell that may not be the one she learned about in sacrament meetings, but it is hell all the same.
In this riveting and masterful novel told in verse, Ellen Hopkins takes readers on an emotional roller-coaster ride. From the highs of true love to the lows of abuse, Pattyn's story will have readers engrossed until the very last word.
Pattyn Scarlet Von Stratten, a Mormon teen, spends most of her time caring for her younger siblings and resenting her mother’s submissive role and her father’s abusive behavior. Like many teen girls, Pattyn has a sex dream about a boy; however, raised in a household with strict religious beliefs, Pattyn wonders if dreaming about sex is wrong and begins asking questions about sex, God, a woman’s role, and love. Afraid of her alcoholic and abusive father and detached from her overworked and depressed mother, Pattyn poses questions to Brother Prior but receives no satisfactory answers. Derek Colthorpe begins paying attention to Pattyn; though Pattyn knows what she feels is lust and not love, her need to be with him is intense. When Pattyn’s father catches her in a compromising position with Derek, a non-Mormon teen, tensions between Pattyn and her father escalate, and he sends her to spend the summer on a ranch with an aunt she does not know. Pattyn is expected to find salvation and redemption during her time in rural Nevada, but Aunt J, opposing the rigidity of her brother’s religion, teaches Pattyn about acceptance and love. Pattyn falls in love with Ethan, the son of Aunt J’s old friend, but knowing her mother and siblings need her help and are victims of her father’s abuse, she returns to her family at the end of summer, leaving Ethan behind. Pattyn stays in contact with Ethan via phone, but when events take a tragic turn, Pattyn learns, despite her time with her aunt, that she cannot escape her demons.
When bad things happen to good people, people sometimes comment that “life is not fair.” What impact, however, does “randomness,” the idea that bad things happen randomly to both “good” and “bad” people, have on this comment?
Can you think of a time in which you felt betrayed? Explain. A time in which you believed a turn of events was unfair? Explain.
In what way is Pattyn’s life different from that of the typical teenage girl? How is it similar? How does she fit in at her school?
A librarian encourages Pattyn to read and gives her a journal in which to write her thoughts. What doors does the librarian open for Pattyn?
Why does Pattyn resent her mother’s role as a parent and wife? Speculate as to why Pattyn does not accept a similar life for herself.
How is Pattyn confused by the concept of free will?
Pattyn knows that she is not in love with Derek Colthorpe, and yet she is attracted to him. What accounts for this attraction? How does Derek fill a void?
Despite Pattyn’s resentment toward her father, she still yearns for his acceptance. Cite a passage that illustrates her longing for her father’s attention.
What accounts for her parents’ unhappiness?
Aunt J is intuitive. She understands Pattyn’s confusion and sense of guilt and her need to be loved and to belong. What common experiences connect Aunt J and her niece?
How is Pattyn’s life different on the ranch with Aunt J? How does Pattyn grow during the summer with her aunt?
How does Aunt J help Pattyn celebrate her birthday? Why does her aunt spend so much on her?
What does Pattyn learn about boy/girl relationships from Ethan? Why does Aunt J encourage their relationship?
Compare and contrast Derek and Ethan.
Why does Pattyn feel a need to return home to her family, knowing she has escaped her father’s abusive behavior and found love and acceptance in her aunt’s house?
Aunt J tells Pattyn that Pattyn gave Aunt J her life back. What does Aunt J mean?
Is Pattyn able to stand up against her father’s abuse once she returns home? Why or why not?
What happens at the end of the story that sends Pattyn spiraling back down? How does she feel betrayed?
Write a follow-up chapter to the last scene in the book that sets up a sequel in which Pattyn is saved. What would need to happen in this chapter to turn the story around?
Research the effects of emotional abuse on children. What accounts for a person being raised in an abusive environment not feeling “good enough” or “deserving”? If children do not come to terms with these feelings, how might these feelings impact them in adult relationships? What differences might exist between men and women?
Research nuclear testing in the state of Nevada. How have people and the environment been affected, and how has the government made compensation? What measures have been put in place in our country to protect citizens from nuclear disaster?
Research summer experiences (camps for teens, for example) that might help arm young people who have grown up in wounded families with stronger coping skills? How would one go about finding out which of these experiences would be helpful and which might prove more damaging?
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.
Ellen Hopkins is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of fourteen young adult novels, as well as the adult novels Triangles, Collateral, and Love Lies Beneath. She lives with her family in Carson City, Nevada, where she has founded Ventana Sierra, a nonprofit youth housing and resource initiative. Visit her at EllenHopkins.com and on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter at @EllenHopkinsLit.