Review: Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann

Sunday, May 8, 2016
Title: Ask Me How I Got Here
Author: Christine Heppermann
Genre: contemporary, verse
Series: N/A
Pages: 240
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Published: May 3 2016
Rating: 3/5

From the author of the acclaimed Poisoned Apples comes a novel in verse about a young woman and the aftermath of a life-altering decision. This thought-provoking and sophisticated read further confirms Christine Heppermann as an important voice in the tradition of Ellen Hopkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, and A. S. King.

Addie has always known what she was running toward. In cross-country, in life, in love. Until she and her boyfriend—her sensitive, good-guy boyfriend—are careless one night and she ends up pregnant. Addie makes the difficult choice to have an abortion. And after that—even though she knows it was the right decision for her—nothing is the same anymore. She doesn’t want anyone besides her parents and her boyfriend to know what happened; she doesn’t want to run cross-country; she can’t bring herself to be excited about anything. Until she reconnects with Juliana, a former teammate who’s going through her own dark places. 

Once again, Christine Heppermann writes with an unflinching honesty and a deep sensitivity about the complexities of being a teenager, being a woman. Her free-verse poems are moving, provocative, and often full of wry humor and a sharp wit. Like Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins, Christine Heppermann is a voice to turn to for the truth of difficult subjects. Ask Me How I Got Here is a literary exploration of sexuality, religion, and self-discovery.  

I truly loved Poisoned Apples and its feminist fairytale poems when I read them last year; so much so that I was willing to read a verse YA novel for that talented and inventive author's potential. I wish I could say this read was a completely successful new venture for me, however that is not the outcome. On one hand, I did fare much better with Heppermann's abortion-themed Ask Me How I Got Here than with any other verse novel I've tried before (aka I actually liked this one enough to finish it), but I lacked a true emotional connection to Addie and her story, which in turn severely lessened my overall rating for the novel itself.

I can sympathize with Addie's situation and repercussions from the inciting incident remotely because Heppermann has a great grasp of language and of character voice. But the way the story itself is told -- in bits, pieces, jumping around with little markers for time -- it lacks impact and meaning. I read quickly, so even when I adjust the speed down for a verse novel's slower momentum, it all just speeds by in a whirl of letters. The book doesn't make me feel the things Addie feels, even though I am in her head for two hundred forty straight pages of her direct expression. This style of narration just doesn't work for me as a reader; I can't invest when the story feels distant or noticeably disjointed despite the desire to and the otherwise abilities of the author. 

I did like the various themes carefully explored here in such a short amount of time. Though I think the main plotline suffers because of the poetic nature of the book lacks focus, the poems themselves could often be poignant and thoughtful and cover a wide range of subjects and emotions. Addie wrestles with her decisions, her faith, her sexuality, her family. She's not limited to this one incident, and I love that Heppermann shows that it doesn't define her entire experience, even if it currently dominates her social life and personal perspective. I did struggle with some of the more religious passages, just due to personal preference but still found others to be well-written and thought-provoking. 

Heppermann is a visual writer and even without loving this particular book of hers, I cannot help but admire how she crafts words into language and how she thinks. Her books read like no one else's and their decidedly feminist slant is appreciated, welcome, wanted, and hopefully influential. I can't say that I will be hoping for another verse novel, but I will absolutely be paying attention to whatever else Heppermann writes going forward and plan to tune in when it is published.

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