Pattyn Von Stratten is searching for the love she isn’t getting from God or her family in this novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkins.
It all started with a dream. Just a typical fantasy, but for a girl raised in a religious—and abusive—family, a simple dream could be the first step toward eternal damnation. Now Pattyn Von Stratten has questions. Questions about God, and sex, and mostly love. Will she ever find it? Pattyn experiences the first stirrings of passion, but when her father catches her in a compromising position, events spiral out of control.
Pattyn is sent to live with an aunt in the wilds of rural Nevada to find salvation and redemption. What she finds instead is love and acceptance, and for the first time she feels worthy of both—until she realizes that her old demons will not let her go. Those demons lead Pattyn down a path to hell—not to the place she learned about in sacrament meetings, but to an existence every bit as horrifying.
In this gripping and masterful novel told in verse, Ellen Hopkins embarks on an emotional journey that ebbs and flows. From the highs of true love to the lows of loss and despair, Pattyn’s story is utterly compelling. You won’t want this story to end—but when it does, you can find out what’s next for Pattyn in the sequel, Smoke.
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.