Title: What About Will
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction/Books in Verse
Number of Pages: 384
This is the first book I’ve read by Ellen Hopkins, after years of hearing about her popular YA verse books and seeing them in the library. I was reluctant to read her work because of something… umm… questionable she wrote about homosexuality in one of her books, but I ended up really enjoying this.
When his older brother Will suffered a brain injury during a baseball game, Trace probably didn’t think their luck could get any worse. But it does. Will gets addicted to opioids and starts acting more and more sullen and angry. Trace doesn’t know what to do to help Will- Trace is the ‘good’ child, easy to get along with, and Will resents him for it. Trace tries his hardest to keep Will’s disturbing behavior secret from his well-meaning dad and absent musician mom, which only exacerbates the situation further.
Trace’s voice is endearing and feels authentic for his age, impressionable and trying to hold it all together. His dynamic with Will feels believably conflicted but I was all out of sympathy with Will’s character early on. When a drug dealer friend assaulted Will’s ex-girlfriend at the mall and Will took the guy’s side and said she overreacted to being manhandled I was like okay, this guy is a loser. No amount of opioid use or TBI can excuse that kind of behavior. So I guess this book was less emotionally affecting than it could have been because I didn’t care what happened to Will.
Will’s mom was also a big-time loser so maybe that’s where he got it from. Trace is a very ‘everyboy’ type of character which could have made him bland and uninteresting but I think Ellen Hopkins did a good job of making the reader sympathize with him. He’s trying his best and even though he sometimes makes bad judgement calls, his intentions are good and he’s in a situation no kid should be in but a lot of real-life kids, unfortunately, are.
I thought Will gained a implausible amount of self-perception at the end when he told Trace it wasn’t his job to save him from himself. It doesn’t seem like the Will of the earlier parts of the book would deliver a line like this or be mature enough to try to absolve Trace of his misplaced guilt. I DID appreciate that things weren’t wrapped up in a tiny little package at the end and that the author was willing to show that addiction is an uncertain and ongoing struggle.