The You I’ve Never Known

Hopkins, Ellen. The You I’ve Never Known. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017.

Close-up of a light-skinned young woman's face, with a fuzzy grid overlay.

Ariel and her father have been on the move since her mother left when she was two years old, never staying long in one place. Now, at seventeen, they have finally settled in a town where Ariel can make friends and go to school. She’s flourishing with academics and sports and cautiously exploring first love with her best friend Monica.

When she meets a young man named Gabe, they become fast friends and Ariel develops feelings for him too. She feels a lot of anxiety and confusion about her sexuality, but is courageously honest with both Monica and Gabe about her uncertainty. Unfortunately, Ariel can’t be so honest with her father. Not only is he controlling, but he is also racist and homophobic. If he knew she was in love with a Mexican-American woman, he might make them move again.

One day, her mother shows back up in her life, and Ariel learns that everything her father told her was a lie. She must reevaluate everything she thought she knew about her mother, her father, and herself.

I really appreciated the portrayal of bisexuality in this book. Ariel’s confusion and self-questioning, her sexual and romantic exploration, and the confidence she develops are very well-depicted. I liked that she didn’t feel pressured to make an immediate choice and she wasn’t slut-shamed.

Something I wasn’t particularly fond of was the writing style; most of the novel is poetry rather than prose. The layout of the text was confusing to me and made it difficult to follow the plot. That said, I am a person who doesn’t “get” poetry, so this is a personal bias. Hopkins’ novels in verse are very popular and her fans love her style.

The You I’ve Never Known has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and VOYA.

Content warning for physical abuse and intense gaslighting.

About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, and Legend Tripper
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