Book Review: Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins

Title: Closer to Nowhere

Author: Ellen Hopkins

Genre: Middle Grade Books in Verse

Number of Pages: 416

Rating: B

Recommended?: Yes

I don’t have much to say about this book, honestly. It’s not hugely memorable but I found it emotionally affecting and at least as good as What About Will, Ellen Hopkins’ other middle grade book-in-verse. Closer to Nowhere is told from the alternating perspectives of Hannah and Cal, two twelve-year-old cousins who have to learn how to live with each other.

Hannah is an aspiring gymnast who tries to maintain as neat and orderly a life as possible. That neatness and order goes down the toilet when her emotionally disturbed cousin, Cal, moves in. Cal chronically tells whopping lies, runs away, and has meltdowns. His mom (Hannah’s mom’s twin sister) died of cancer and his dad was physically and emotionally abusive. Cal is a poster child for an attachment disorder and the family members he now shares a home with don’t know how to deal with him. Hannah’s parents start to fight more and more over Cal and Hannah becomes increasingly resentful.

The perspectives of the kids are honest and sensitively rendered, and the author does a good job of respecting both their points of view and individual struggles. I found Cal’s character more engaging than Hannah’s, not because her feelings weren’t understandable but because I didn’t really connect to her as much. I really liked Cal and felt for him, and as someone with a mental illness I related to his own apparent lack of control over his actions and ensuing remorse. I also liked the format of the poems and how Cal’s all had true or false questions and Hannah’s had definitions of various words.

It was creative and helped further separate the two perspectives from each other. The narrative voices were also strong and didn’t run together like a lot of books with alternating perspectives do. It affectively conveyed how hard it can be to understand another person, even if they’ve been through hell and you know you should try harder to support them.

The afterward about the author’s grandson and how he inspired Cal’s character was interesting. Even though it seems like it might take a long time to read at 416 pages, because of the format Closer to Nowhere goes by quickly and might appeal to reluctant readers interested in a book that deals with serious subject matter but is also full of hope.

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