Book Talk: Finding Hope by Colleen Nelson

Eric was a popular kid and on track to receive scholarships to play hockey in college. But something happened along the way, something that derailed his future. Eric’s past haunts him and, seemingly out of nowhere, he has fallen into severe meth addiction.

Hope wants to get out of get out of her big brother Eric’s shadow — she longs to just be herself. He used to be the star of the family with a golden future; now he’s the source of their shame. She doesn’t want to be defined as anyone’s brother anymore. Hope enrolls in Ravenhurst Academy, a new boarding school, hoping that it will be a clean slate for her and that she will leave the rumors of her brother’s downward spiral behind.

When a group of Ravenhurst Academy popular (read: mean) girls invite Hope into their circle of friends, she’s happy to have made some new connections. Of course, what she doesn’t realize is that some friendships have a cost. Sooner or later, she finds herself in trouble, and in unlikely need of her meth-head brother’s help.

[Spoiler alert — I reveal some plot points below]

My biggest issue with Finding Hope is that Nelson writes as if young adult readers are incapable of understanding the complexities of human experience. While Hope and Eric both theoretically have strong traits with which to identify, Nelson provides a surface level portrayal of their characters. Hope is defined by her problems — apart from having an addict brother and encountering teenage bullies, she is a fairly boring person. The only hobby she seems to have is writing dark poetry but, with nothing else to round her out, the poetry doesn’t really fit, or add much to, her character. I was left with the simple question of what on earth Hope was doing with all of her time (there’s only so much poetry a person can write, after all).

Eric is more emotionally complex than his sister narrator, but he too is solely defined by his problems — his problems are just bigger than Hopes’s. What we see of Eric apart from, or prior to, his history of abuse and addiction portrays him as an unsympathetic stereotype — a popular, shallow jock. Nelson also dumbs down said physical and emotional abuse and addiction — and Hopes’s poetry — in ways that I find to be both offensive to the subjects she addresses and to the readers.

This may be a harsh review, but it’s only because the novel tried to tackle so much. I do think it’s valuable to feature voices of disadvantages and trauma, because that’s real life, but I found myself expecting more from this book. There was a lot of potential in the storyline Nelson developed; however, Hope and Eric were ultimately just conduits for a “shocking” story, not conduits for any real character development.

Perhaps it would have been more effective to have just one narrator and a more robust understanding of that character. Perhaps the novel needed to be longer so that Nelson had the pages to create emotional complexity.

Book: Finding Hope
Author: Colleen Nelson
Type: A shallow YA interpretation of trauma and emotional complexity

Not sure what a 2/5 star rating means? Check out the Book Talk Review Guide here!

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

What do you think? Let me know below!

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