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Ellen Hopkins reflects on ten years of writing YA with publication of 'Rumble'

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Faith and bullying take center stage in the world of young adult literature with today’s release of Rumble, the latest book from New York Times best-selling author Ellen Hopkins.

The book follows teenage protagonist Matthew Turner, who has lost his faith in everything after bullying lead his younger brother to commit suicide. But events soon force Matthew to question everything he’s ever not believed in.

Hopkins is no stranger to tackling tough subjects when it comes to her teen novels. Her previous books have covered subjects as serious as drug addiction, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, and suicide. But the author says it was a reader who inspired her to address the subject of faith in Rumble.

In an exclusive interview with Examiner.com, Hopkins explains: “There were a couple of mosque burnings in the news at the time, and I posted on my Facebook page, ‘We all serve one Creator,’ meaning Christians, Jews, Muslims, whomever. A young woman, 16, responded that I was ‘awfully arrogant to think she had to believe in ANYTHING.’ It struck me that when you're a teen you should be asking big questions, rather than cutting yourself off from them. I know I did, and so the idea of lack of faith took root in my brain.”

Hopkins is eager to add, “The operative word here IS faith, not religion.”

If there’s a message teen readers take away from reading Rumble, Hopkins hopes it’s this: “That life does present us with huge questions, and it's healthy to explore them. You might not find definitive answers, but debating possibilities is important. Cutting yourself off from possibility limits your imagination and problem solving skills.”

Rumble hits store shelves ten years after Hopkins’ first novel, Crank, was published. In that time, Hopkins’ many novels have left a lasting impression on readers – especially teen readers.

“ I get many [responses from readers] every day, thanking me for turning them away from this path, shedding light on a loved one's addiction, or even from kids who've decided they want to help others by becoming counselors or psychologists,” Hopkins says. “One does stand out in my memory, though. It was from a young lady who said Crank had saved her from her own addiction, and as she was packing for college her younger brother spotted the book. Thinking it was maybe glorifying meth, he asked to read it. He and his girlfriend were both high on meth that night. They read the book in one sitting, and both quit the next day. Seeing oneself in Kristina can be a huge wake up call.”

Crank has not only impacted her readers’ lives, but it’s made a huge impact on Hopkins herself. The book was inspired by her own daughter’s addiction to meth.

“Writing the book brought a lot of necessary insight into the choices my daughter made,” Hopkins says. “Parents want to assign themselves a lot of guilt when a child takes a wrong turn, and while we can shoulder some of the blame, it's important to realize that kids, especially once they reach adolescence, start making decisions (and not always good ones) for themselves. But telling that story also brought me to where I belong as a writer—writing books for teens that can bring them knowledge and understanding of issues touching their lives every day.”

The experience of writing about troubled teens – and hearing about the massive impact her books have had on so many young lives – is part of what lead Hopkins to another impactful moment in her life: the creation of Ventana Sierra.

The recently-founded nonprofit organization provides housing, education, and life resources to disadvantaged youth.

“In my travels I often come across young people who have big dreams, but lack the resources to go for them. Since it's this generation that largely built my career, I feel it's necessary to return what I can in the form of hope for a brighter future,” Hopkins says. “In the year plus since we've opened our first house, we've helped some 20 kids off the street, helped a half-dozen graduate high school and twelve into college. They haven't all stayed, but at least we've given them a jumpstart.”

Ventana Sierra is always looking for donations to help support the organization – especially as it continues to grow. Right now, fans of Hopkins can contribute to a crowdfunding campaign for a filmed version of the stage adaptation of Crank, which Hopkins oversaw last year. All proceeds from the crowdfunding campaign will benefit Ventana Sierra.

Readers can contribute to the campaign here.

Rumble is in stores now.

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