On the surface the Gardella family is picture perfect. Dad is a district court judge, mom is running for a Senate seat, and identical twin sisters Raeanne and Kaeleigh both do well in school. But as the story unfolds we learn that beneath the surface things are not as they seem. Mom is emotionally withdrawn and never at home except for the select photo op and Daddy is an alcoholic who has been sexually abusing Kaeleigh since she was 9 years old. The twins deal with their parents’ betrayal in different ways; Raeanne numbs herself from life’s pain with drugs and booze and uses sex to try to find power in her relationships with men, while Kaeleigh cuts herself to feel control and binges to discourage her father’s advances.
This one’s intense! Basically the young women in this story deal with just about every serious issue that a parent hopes and dreams that their child will never have to deal with. I have to say that I generally pride myself on catching any and all signs of foreshadowing, on not being utterly surprised by plot developments, but this one had me with my jaw dropped to the floor by the end. The story is written in free verse poetry told in alternating voices between Raeanne and Kaeleigh. The reader of the audiobook, Laura Flanagan – who has performed Hopkins’ work before – brings the characters to life, giving the twins contrasting voices and making their verses come across as extremely natural and everyday.
Hopkins’ books are frequently challenged as they deal with serious and sometimes dark subject matter and are aimed at a young adult audience. In the past two years Hopkins has seen invitations withdrawn from a planned visit to an Oklahoma school to the recent controversy with the Teen Lit Festival in Humble, TX. Last year she lent a poem to Banned Books Week. I can understand why some parents want to shelter their kids from the scary-scary that inhabits Hopkins’ work and even why some kids would not want to read her work. Identical is really hard to read – depressing really – but I don’t think that is a legitimate reason to ban a work of literature (let alone if this book were plain old smut). And the truth is that as hard as it was to make it through Identical, it was a unique experience that I was glad to partake in and I highly suggest the book to anyone able to deal with the dark.