________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 19. . . .January 19, 2016


Finding Hope.

Colleen Nelson.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2016.
224 pp., trade pbk., pdf & epub, $12.99 (pbk.), $12.99 (pdf), $8.99 (epub).
ISBN 978-1-4597-3245-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4597-3246-9 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4597-3247-6 (epub).

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Callie Martin.

**1/2 /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


She gave a mirthless laugh. “The stump? Where you used to build forts? That’s where you…” Her voice trailed off. Looked after him, the unspoken words. Gave him the help that his own mother wouldn’t, or couldn’t: clothes from his room, notes to tell him when Dad would be gone, leftovers disappeared from the fridge. “You never told me.”

“I should have,” I said, but didn’t mean it. It wasn’t her right to know everything about us.


There are few relationships we get in life that can be as close as siblings. Be it a brother or sister, it is a human being (typically) close to your age, raised in the same conditions, dealing with similar circumstances. But eventually lives diverge, and choices are made for better, or worse. Finding Hope is exactly that: the fractured story of teenaged siblings Eric and Hope, the former a meth-addict wandering the streets, the latter a poet who has just been accepted into a prestigious school to hone her talent. Do not let the ages of the protagonists fool you, however—this is hardly a novel for young teenagers.

     Told in extremely short, alternating chapters from both Hope and Eric’s perspectives, Finding Hope delves deep into two worlds that seem incredibly disjointed. For the first half of the novel, the novel appears to not know what genre it wants to belong to: teen or drama, and it alternates between the two categories in a very jarring fashion. This was perhaps a purposeful choice on Nelson’s part in an attempt to blatantly spell out Hope’s innocence and Eric’s corruption, but it is a jolting thing to read about high school shenanigans on one page and heavily implied oral sex on the other. Not that it does not put into a sharp contrast the two worlds, but, at times, the novel reads as two very separate stories that would have possibly been stronger as their own individual novels. It is not until midway through the story with the introduction of “Devon” that the pace increases and the stories begin to show cohesion.

     However, Nelson should be applauded for her ability to capture “girl world” in an all-female school environment. Though Hope’s story is largely predictable (with a very large missed opportunity for a twist towards the end), Nelson writes her realistically. Hope mischaracterizes her naïveté as simple innocence, something many teenagers do, believing themselves not to be quite as susceptible to suggestion and peer pressure as they are. Hope’s story is believable, both as an enabler of her beloved brother as well as being a typical teenaged girl. She longs for friends and acceptance, and her actions follow accordingly, even when they are questionable.

     Readers are given snippets of Hope’s poetry periodically which is exclusively non-rhyming free-verse. As the holder of an English degree, I did find it questionable how Hope got accepted into what is repeatedly stated to be a prestigious school for the arts on such mediocre writing. Was it possible she submitted pieces the readers didn’t see? Yes, but readers can only judge based on what is shown, and the pieces that are included in the novel can be found in almost any sullen teen’s journal or Twitter feed. Unless Ravenhurst Academy can work miracles, the next Emily Brontë or Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hope is definitely not.

     Nelson’s strength is more pronounced in her writing of Eric. Not afraid of realism, Nelson has Eric curse and describe bodily functions vividly. While unpleasant, it is refreshing to see that type of fearlessness in a writer who portrays the truth of a situation rather than a politically-corrected version of it. Too often do we have writers afraid of reality, especially in the “young adult” genre, opting to cut out profanity entirely, or hilariously replace the words with almost-curses that no drug addict in any circumstance would say.

     Nelson is not afraid to highlight not just the reality of drug-addiction, but a way in which it can begin: sexual abuse. A concept underused in a genre most commonly directed towards those most likely to have gone or be going through it, Nelson tackles an unglamorous issue and holds it up to the light to show how destructive it truly is. Make no mistake, Eric is a criminal and a burn-out, but Nelson humanizes him to the point readers will no doubt sympathize with his behaviour, much like his sister does, and understand how hard it can be to say “no” to an addict.

     Though the title is about as much of a cliché as one can bear, Finding Hope is exactly that. It is not a novel that those unprepared for vivid descriptions of drug-taking and sexual abuse should pick up, but for those who have suffered from an addiction—or even merely loved someone who has suffered from one, Finding Hope provides insight into, and an ability to relate to, society’s misfits and abused. Hope doesn’t come easy, but it will come, if only one is willing to look.


Callie holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English and is currently applying for her Master’s in Film Studies.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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