Rumble by Ellen Hopkins. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2014.
Matthew Turner doesn’t believe in anything. Not family – his is falling apart around him in the aftermath of his younger brother’s suicide. Not God, because if there was a beneficent, all powerful creator, his brother would still be alive. And certainly not religion. After all, those who bullied his brother for being gay until he killed himself justified their cruelty in the name of religion. As he struggles to continue with his life, the one thing he can rely on is his relationship with his girlfriend. She urges forgiveness. But how an Matt forgive others when he can’t even begin to forgive himself? When Hayden seems to start drifting further away, choosing her faith over their relationship, Matt panics. He’s lost everything else. He can’t bear to lose her, too.
In Rumble, Ellen Hopkins explores the role of faith in people’s lives. This book tackles the difficult idea of morality versus religious faith. Matt, an atheist, is convinced that belief is not necessary to be a good person, and that religion is often used to give a veneer of respectability to evil actions. How can you call yourself good if in the name of your religion you torment a young teen to the point of suicide? Not that Matt’s behavior is without fault. He is quick to assign blame and lash out at former friends and family members alike.
Hopkins offers no easy answers, just a window on to the struggles of a teen-age boy trying to cope with tragedy in a world where his support systems seem to be crumbling around him. A series of personal and family crises force him to begin to face his loss and accept love and support in places where had been overlooking it.
That said, the final crisis seems just a bit too much, as if Hopkins decided the story needed a major, dramatic climax before the resolution could be complete, a crisis to set the stage for an epiphany that causes Matt to doubt his complete lack of belief. For me that cheapened his hard-fought steps toward healing, while sending the message that he can’t heal properly without that bit of belief. And once he accepts that, everything can come to a swift, neat conclusion.
But that is a personal quibble with an otherwise good book. Hopkins is a master of the novel in verse format and does not disappoint here. Because this book addresses important questions about belief, forgiveness, and religion, it could be an excellent choice for teen book discussion groups.
I received a free advance copy of this book in return for an honest review.