The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews. I had the chance to re-read some old favorites to see how my perspective has changed over time, as well as some new loves!
H is for People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins
I’m a big fan of Ellen Hopkins, have been since I was a teenager. I love her free-verse poetry and how much she can destroy you with so few words. FYI, this review does not contain spoilers.
PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE is a multi-POV contemporary fiction novel in free-verse that follows six characters whose lives are impacted by gun violence. It opens with a man accidentally shooting his wife to death with a gun he bought to use against "punks" (read: his Muslim neighbors). After killing his wife, he sells the gun to one of these six characters: There's Rand, a nineteen-year-old with a toddler, who has some serious trauma from his past that he'd like to avenge; Cami, Rand's wife, who secretly deals weed to make money for their family but fears a drug deal gone wrong; Silas, a white nationalist with a love of violence; Ashlyn, Silas's on-again, off-again girlfriend who is new to the white nationalist movement; Noelle, who sustained permanent brain damage from a road rage incident involving a gun; and Daniel, who just wants to protect his new girlfriend from Silas's stalking behavior. One of these people will kill people.
Overall, I found PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE to be an enjoyable dive into six very different characters. The conceit of the novel is that you are being spoken to directly by “the voice of Violence,” interspersed with slipping into the heads of the six POVs. The guessing game about who bought the gun was a bit fun, but in all honesty, four of those characters were easily dismissed as the purchaser – too obvious, nothing to gain by having a gun, hates guns, doesn’t have a real reason to buy one. So by the halfway point, I’d already narrowed it down to two, although I didn’t figure out which character would die until the page before. On that note, as soon as we were in the killer’s head, it was obvious what was about to happen. I’m not sure if this was an intentional move by Hopkins, or if she couldn’t come up with a satisfactory way to narrate it otherwise.
The six POVs – seven, if you count Violence – could be a bit much at times. All of these characters’ lives were intertwined, which initially made it a challenge to remember who was related to who by blood or by marriage, and who had dated who vs who had broken up, etc. but it didn’t take long to sort everyone out. I loved how Hopkins wove in little jabs and nudges from Violence into each character’s narrative, showing how their rage or fear was building in a believable way. I’ve certainly had bad days and then one more thing happens that makes me want to lash out, and Hopkins perfectly captures that feeling, that moment on the edge. At the end of the novel, she gives a short blurb about what happens to each character afterward, and all but one were satisfactory.
PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE is a great read for teens and adults. It may be a good choice for parents who want to talk to their kids about gun safety and gun violence: it’s not preachy, it has believable characters, and it contains situations that could very well happen in real life, like a convenience store robbery. However, please be aware that it contains racial slurs and descriptions of sexual assault against a child.