Ellen Hopkins is one of those authors that immediately goes on my "to read" list. I read my first Hopkins novel, Burned, as a teen, and I've gobbled up everything she's written ever since. I was ecstatic when she transitioned into writing adult fiction with Triangles because even through I still admired her verse writing style, her teen plots were becoming a little too melodramatic for me. However, as I mentioned in my 2011 End of the Year Book Survey, Triangles also spread itself a little too thin. I was pleasantly surprised then by how much I loved Hopkins' newest adult fiction, Collateral.
Told solely from the perspective of the main character Ashley with the exception of poetic inserts from her boyfriend, Marine, Cole, Collateral is a cohesive, introspective look at military relationships. Collateral begins in present tense but is interspersed with flashbacks, which Hopkins calls "Rewinds," to provide further insight into Ashley and Cole's increasingly complicated relationship. Despite the fluctuation in time, the novel is surprisingly linear in its depiction of Ashley and Cole's relationship. When it begins, Ashley and Cole are firmly entrenched in their love, but as the novel progresses, the reader begins to see the cracks in its perfect facade, mirrored in Ashley's Rewinds, which finally grow into chasms by the novel's conclusion.
Hopkins poignantly portrays the uncertainty faced by military couples and also highlights issues such as alcoholism, violence, and infidelity that peak during training and tour. In her author's note at the beginning of the book, Hopkins indicates the hours of research she put into this novel from the news feeds she scoured about the unit she modeled Cole's fictional unit after to the interviews she conducted with military wives and girlfriends. Her dedication to an accurate depiction of life and love in the military shows in every page, and although she strives in each novel to write the gritty realities of every day life, I feel she succeeded more fully in Collateral because she focused more on the minutiae that makes up every day life and relationships rather than inventing over the top calamities to befall her characters.
Best matched with readers interested in military family fiction.