Ellen Hopkins

What About


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About the Book

Twelve-year-old Trace Reynolds has always looked up to his brother, mostly because Will, who's five years older, has never looked down on him. It was Will who taught Trace to ride a bike, would watch sports on TV with him, and cheer him on at Little League. But when Will was knocked out cold during a football game, resulting in a brain injury—everything changed.


Now, seventeen months later, their family is still living under the weight of "the incident," that left Will with a facial tic, depression, and an anger he cannot always control, culminating in their parents' divorce. Afraid of further fracturing his family, Trace begins to cover for Will who, struggling with addiction to pain medication, becomes someone Trace doesn’t recognize.


But when the brother he loves so much becomes more and more withdrawn, and escalates to stealing money and ditching school, Trace realizes some secrets cannot be kept if we ever hope to heal.



Guns don’t kill people.

People kill people.



Yes, you.

Come here.

Please? I need

to ask you something.


Have you ever felt the desire

to hurt someone?

I mean pummel them,

wound them, watch

them bleed?


Did you?

Would you?

Could you?


If I were the gambling type,

I’d put my money on “yes.”

See, there’s this thing inside

every one of you,

the collective human call

toward violence.

All it takes is one singular

moment to encourage

it into play


and the lamb



the lion.


Take It One Step Further


Have you ever thought

about killing someone?

I mean, poisoning them,

bludgeoning them, grabbing

a well-honed knife

and carving them into pieces?


Chances are you haven’t,

wouldn’t, couldn’t

follow through.


What’s required

to become the catalyst

for death?

A moral compass, sprung

and spinning haywire?

Antifreeze, flowing

through your veins?


Or, perhaps, nothing more

than circumstance?


In that instant when the lamb

unleashes its roar,

would you heed

the call or instead defer

to the quivering

voice of reason?


Like Dawn and Dusk

Existence and demise

are inextricably linked

as per the Grand Scheme

either drafted by some

all-powerful architect,

or randomly designed.


Perhaps this is the true

knowledge of Eden—not

the mechanics of procreation,

but the promise that one’s time

on Earth is nothing more

than a journey toward

inevitable departure.


Surely the ancient ones

who bore witness to birth

in the wilds, and death

from claw or club or predation

by creatures too small

for the eye to identify,

were aware of nature’s plot.


As their spines uncurled

and they drew upright to run,

discovered the value of flint,

the power of spear and arrow,

the lust for blood billowed

like a black-bellied cloud. Oh,

to wield a weapon mercilessly,

extinguish a beating heart.



The Millennia Crept Forward




Dawn to dusk to dawn

to dusk, and humankind

shed its fur,

fashioned clothes,

deserted its caves

in favor of villages, cities.


But even as people

learned to plant,

harness sunlight

and rain to nurture

garden, fields,

their passion

for the hunt remained.


They killed

in the name of





 They killed

in response to





They killed

for the thrill,

the simple pleasure

of witnessing bloodshed.


For one delicious moment

how they would have watched

in wide-eyed reverence

the advent of gunpowder,


marveled at the fire lance,

its relentless evolution


from crude spear-driven


into a fierce weapon

able to discharge one thousand


flesh-ripping metal projectiles

in sixty lethal seconds.


Ponder their amazement

at a machine with the ability

to level entire villages, infant

to ancient, in mere minutes.


They would’ve fallen on their knees

and lifted their arms in worship.


Now you understand the talent

of a firearm. But perhaps

you’re unaware of the force


fueling its seductiveness.

You Know How


Sometimes you hear a whisper

fall over your shoulder,

but then you turn to search


for the source, find nothing

but landscape behind you?


So then you tell yourself

it was just a case of hyperactive

imagination, convince


yourself that sentiments

don’t materialize out of thin air.


But the truth, at least as I like

to tell it, is that the voices

who speak to you from inside


your head have taken up

permanent residence there.


Some shout warnings, prodding

you to take cover, flee,

or brandish a weapon.


Others murmur, haunting

you with poetry.


Like me.




Because What If

A few of those rumblings

inside your brain

aren’t make-believe at all?


What if they could be the inspired

ramblings of an alien

creature, not flesh and bone,


but rather the embodiment

of a raging primordial power

dwelling within your synapses?


What if it’s my murmuring you hear?

I am the voice of Violence.

You know me. You do.


I’ve made my presence clear

though you may pretend otherwise.

We need each other, you and I.


We’re conjoined. Consider, if you will,

the notion that a similar symbioses

is in play with regards


to the oft embraced theory

of daily communion

between man and a higher power.

You See, Like a God




I am nothing

without you.


Nothing but energy

in need of a vessel

capable of action,

and an intellect

able to form and follow

through with a plan.


Often, you will ignore

my pleas, feign deafness.

Ah, but I am relentless.

I know you can hear me

and sooner or later

you’ll heed my call.



we are formidable.

High tide

chewing into the sand.


Oh, but weapon in hand,

we are inexorable.

A tsunami battering

the breakwater.


reviews from Booklist:

"A compelling, page-turning story."—Booklist