From her years of writing for young adults to her recent venture into adult novels, Ellen Hopkins has never shied away from addressing controversial topics. And her latest release, People Kill People, may be the most controversial yet.
Ellen Hopkins is well known for delivering stories that delve into topics most people aren’t comfortable talking about. From her early novels about addiction to her unflinching depictions of mental illness, Hopkins is a master at portraying the gruesome aspects of life.
In her newest release, People Kill People, she takes her talent for exploring difficult topics and makes it political. Unpacking the debate surrounding gun violence in the United States, Hopkins follows a series of characters, each with varying perspectives on gun ownership.
The novel explores what pushes people to want guns, as well as the consequences of actually owning one. In its discussion of firearms, People Kill People manages to address other relevant political issues, including racism and immigration.
People Kill People addresses the darker side of human nature, and these five aspects of the story make it appealing in spite of that.
1. It’s told from the perspective of violence.
One of the most fascinating components of People Kill People is its narration. From the very beginning, the “voice of violence” speaks directly to the reader. Violence tells the stories of the characters and interjects to give its own perspective on events.
This is part of what makes People Kill People so dark. As you can imagine, violence has plenty of taunting yet accurate things to say about human nature. It’s hard to deny a lot of the points the narrator makes. After all, there’s some truth to the argument that all people truly are capable of just about anything given the right circumstances.
2. The formatting keeps the story suspenseful.
People Kill People is set up in a way that draws readers into the story, then leaves them wanting more. The chapters alternate between six different characters, each with his or her own set of problems. As you might have guessed, Hopkins has no problem leaving each chapter on a cliffhanger. Want to know what happens? Just read the next hundred pages or so.
Between chapters, there’s also the commentary from violence mentioned above. Written in verse, violence’s pages always allude to the chapters ahead. The foreshadowing is almost guaranteed to make readers continue on.
3. It forces readers into the shoes of characters with dubious morals.
It takes an impressive writer to tell the stories of bigoted characters and still make them interesting and relatable. Hopkins manages this, carefully balancing the fact that her characters hold deplorable beliefs but are still human beings with their own emotions and relationships.
Readers will likely be disgusted while reading from these perspectives, but they’ll still be compelled to continue on. Despite all the horrible truths revealed about these people, you’ll still want to know how their stories end.
4. It explores the mentality behind owning weapons.
Each character in this book owns a gun or thinks about purchasing one at some point. Because of this, Hopkins is able to explore why people are so inclined to own weapons in the first place. Of course, there are many reasons a person might want a firearm.
When it comes down to it, Hopkins demonstrates that the underlying reason is a desire for power. Whether it’s to protect oneself from the unknown or to regain dignity in the form of revenge, owning a weapon makes each of the characters in this book feel more powerful. Just the knowledge that they have it gives them some semblance of control over their lives.
Of course, Hopkins also proves again and again that this mindset is merely an illusion. Not a single person has total control over their circumstances, and owning a gun won’t change that. Unfortunate things still happen to our characters, regardless of their “protection.”
5. It drives home its point without getting preachy.
While People Kill People’s ending is predictable, this doesn’t make it any less powerful. When a child gets hold of a carelessly placed gun, things quickly turn tragic.
The story’s point is captured perfectly in just a few lines: “It doesn’t matter how the gun fell into the wrong hands. It only matters that it did.”
In this passage, Hopkins drives home the notion that, following shootings, we focus too heavily on how the shooter got the gun. But this doesn’t matter. Ultimately, we need to accept that lax gun regulations mean that guns will inevitably fall into the wrong hands.
The final pages of the novel also jump to the future, a time during which everyone involved in the tragedy has moved on and started to forget. This detail is small but powerful; it mirrors how society treats mass shootings on a regular basis.
Though we’re emotional when it happens, the shock quickly fades into indifference. We forget and carry on with our lives, at least until another shooting occurs. And that’s the problem, isn’t it?
People Kill People hit shelves on September 4 and is relevant as ever in today’s political climate. It’s a book that everyone should read, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum.