Identical – Ellen Hopkins

Warning: spoilers.

Hopkins writes verse poetry novels, often featuring split-perspective narratives. Identical focuses on two abused sixteen-year-old twin daughters with twisted priorities.

The father sexually abuses Kaeleigh who binges and purges her food as a point of control – the only control she has over her body – while Raenne pursues drugs as an outlet. A fatal accident is also briefly alluded to throughout the narrative.

Hints were peppered throughout the novel that foreshadowed the conclusion, but at the time of reading them didn’t particularly make sense. Conflicts at school seemed continuous, as if the twins were a singular person being targeted. Kaeleigh somehow knew what Raenne had experienced the previous day despite not having been present for the instance, nor being informed via dialogue later on. While this is a clever narrative device when you realise at the end that they’re both one person with a split-personality disorder to cope with the father’s sexual abuse… at the time of reading it I was a bit muddled.

Kaeleigh’s split-personality was adopted on the night Raenne died in a fatal car accident. The disorder blossomed as a result of the father’s sexual abuse, her mother leaving, and the pressure of seeing her identical twin dead. She was effectively seeing a version of her own face in Raenne’s death but could not cope with the overall trauma.

Identical’s brutal, confronting narrative was brilliantly horrific in the blatant way Kaeleigh’s and Raenne’s sexual and substance struggles were depicted, but the conclusion seemed to tie together a bit too neatly. Peppered through the narrative are phone calls from concerned grandparents who never appear directly on the scene, only by voice. It is one of these grandparents that act as the saving grace for Kaeleigh who receives psychiatric help and removal from her abusive home.

Sometimes you’re not always after a happy ending. I expected it to be messy and tumultuous, but it was instead too clean, too neat, like Kaeleigh struggled too much throughout the narrative so at Identical’s conclusion someone had to whisk her away to relative safety.

I’m not complaining, I enjoyed Identical in a twisted way. But if you’re considering reading Ellen Hopkins and don’t know where to start, pick up Identical first. It’s definitely better as a gateway into Hopkins’ books. I’ve read several of them so far, but unfortunately I’d rank Identical at the bottom of my enjoyment list overall. The narrative kept me intrigued, the voices of Kaeleigh and Raenne were distinguishable, but the ending left me only half-satisfied.


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