Review 8 – Tilt by Ellen Hopkins

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Tilt
  • Author: Ellen Hopkins
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • Year Published: 2012
  • Setting: Nevada, United States
  • Point of View (POV): First person alternating POVs mostly between the three main characters: Mikayla, Shane, and Harley. Minor characters’ one-page POVs act as dividers between the stories of the three main characters.
  • Themes: Family, Friendship, Love, Mistakes, Coming of Age, Betrayal, Rebellion, Death, Depression, Adolescence
  • My Rating: 7/10
  • Favourite Quotes:
    • “I know / what happy is, but I / don’t / understand what sad means. / It must be how you feel, like / when you can’t find your smile” (Hopkins 289).
    • “I Hate How Relationships / Are so fragile. How they / crack / shatter / fall to pieces. / And the hammer is / time / distance / moving forward. / Why can’t people grow / closer / tighter / welded together? / Instead they go / looking / for the next / frail connection. / There must be a way to / stay / in love / no matter what.” (Hopkins 397).
    • “’Do you ever feel / like that? Like you have to change / everything about yourself to get / where you want to be, or think you do?’ / Now she’s quiet. Finally, she answers, / ‘Think you do’ says a lot, you know?” (Hopkins 504).


**CAUTION: this review contains a discussion of some hard topics, including abortion, death, overdose, and rape**

Tilt is a young adult contemporary novel written in free verse poetry about three teenagers who are each dealing with their own family conflicts and personal hardships. Mikayla, who is almost eighteen, is in a relationship with her boyfriend, Dylan, and the two are crazy in love, until an accidental pregnancy changes everything. Sixteen-year-old Shane has just come out to his parents as gay and is experiencing his first relationship with a boy named Alex, who he finds out has HIV. And Harley, who is fourteen but wants people to stop treating her like a child, is hanging out a group of people who she feels she can’t say no to, leading her to do things she isn’t comfortable with. The families also bring in their own complications, with Mikayla’s parents on their way to a divorce, Shane’s four-year-old sister Shelby, who is terminally ill, and Harley’s father’s new girlfriend and her son. Each of these stories climax in different ways, at different points in the book. The peak of Mikayla’s story comes when she decides not to have an abortion, which causes Dylan to break up with her. For Shane’s story, it is when Shelby passes away, sending him into a deep, isolating depression. And for Harley, it comes when her poor judgement leads her to date an older boy who only cares about accomplishing his goal of taking her virginity. Tilt depicts several situations that many teenagers can relate to in some way and I loved the free verse poetry format and how it told the story in such an interesting way.

I did become emotionally attached to most of the characters in this novel, whether that means I was proud of them, rooted for them, or thought they were being stupid. I am glad that Mikayla followed her heart and decided that an abortion was not the right decision for her, despite the knowledge that having the baby meant that Dylan would leave her. I also love Shane and Alex together, and am glad that Alex having HIV does not stop them from being together. The two are very aware that they have to be careful in order to prevent Shane from becoming HIV-positive as well, and they make sure not to take any risks. My heart did break for Shane when his sister passed away, however. He begins self-medicating with pills, alcohol, and marijuana and all I could do was keep reading, even though I predicted that he would overdose (accidentally or purposefully). I am happy that Shane survived and hopefully will be getting the help that he knows he needs. Lastly, I was honestly incredibly annoyed with Harley throughout the entire second half of this novel. She makes the worst decisions, like how she ditches her best friend, Bri (Mikayla’s little sister), in favour of a group of friends that do not care about her well-being. After a night of heavy drinking, Harley vomits and instead of helping her, her ‘boyfriend’ Lucas tells his buddy to take a picture of her, which is then posted to social media. Harley says several times about Lucas that “pretty much / whatever he asks, I can’t say no / to” (Hopkins 466). I really, really hoped that my prediction about her story wouldn’t come true… But it did. When Harley was black-out drunk one night, Lucas raped her. My heart broke for her, and I was furious and disgusted, especially since the rape was told in one page of free verse told from Lucas’ point-of-view, which read “a gentleman, / would / turn / away . . . But she’s a sweet / little piece of virgin meat, and / I’ve waited patiently. The first / turn / belongs to me” (Hopkins 549). Yes, Harley made some terrible decisions, but that is no excuse for rape. Forcing yourself on somebody, no matter the situation, is never okay. I also felt that after the crazy emotions that one goes through while reading this book, readers do not get closure for any of the stories, for the book just ends, without them coming to a real conclusion.

Ellen Hopkins is known for writing her novels in free verse poetry, and this is a fairly unique writing style in fiction, especially young adult. She does not set the pages up the in the same way every time, but the way the words are arranged changes with each new page. The pages that are formatted in the same way are the one-page dividers that are told from the secondary characters’ points-of-view. These pages are black with white type, creating a necessary contrast between them and the main storylines. The majority of the poetry is on one side of the page, with the exception of a few words from each stanza, which are shifted to the other side. These isolated words work with the main idea of the page, but also say something new. Here is an example told from Brianna (Harley’s best friend)’s point-of view:


While the poem says something in itself, the words along the side read, “A best friend / is / your voice, / when you / can’t find it,” giving the poem a double meaning (Hopkins 65). Another narrative choice Hopkins makes, is to portray dialogue in italics instead of quotation marks to show when another character is speaking to one of the three main characters. This was difficult to get used to but is the same technique that Hopkins uses in all of her novels. This is the second book of hers that I’ve read, and I once again really enjoyed reading her free verse poetry. It was a welcome change from the typical novel reading experience.

Tilt definitely fulfills the expectations of a young adult contemporary novel. It deals with “issues that are relevant to teens, including racism, pregnancy, divorce, substance abuse, family conflicts, and political injustice, young adult novels provide a roadmap of sorts for adolescents coping with these issues in real life” (Bean & Moni 638). Hopkins’ novel deals with the majority of these issues in detail, and readers are able to watch the characters and see the way they deal with their problems and decide whether they would make similar choices if they were in that situation. Alternately, it allows readers to relate to the characters and to use the novel possibly to help them cope with whatever they are dealing with in their own lives. This novel, like most in the young adult genre, also addresses “questions of character identity and values” (Bean & Moni 638). Mikayla, Shane, and Harley are all deciding on the kind of people they want to be, in their own ways, just like the author’s intended audience is. Hopkins uses her novels to make her readers ask themselves, ‘what would I have done in this situation’. I know that Tilt did this to me, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one who was inspired to ask myself some hard questions.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an emotional read. Tilt made me feel a lot of emotions and ask myself a lot of questions, which I think is a testament to Ellen Hopkins’ writing talent. This novel can be relatable to anyone, but especially to teenagers and young adults. I gave Tilt a 7 out of 10 because although I loved the free verse poetry and the emotional tone, I did find it to be predictable – with the exception of Mikayla’s story. As well, I was not happy with the way the book ended, for it did not feel finished at all. This book is not part of a series, it is a stand-alone novel with no expected sequel. With Mikayla’s plan for the adoption of her baby falling through, Shane’s (possibly accidental) suicide attempt, and Harley’s rape happening so close to the end of the book, I feel like there is more to know about the lives of these characters. While all three stories end on an optimistic note, we don’t know what is going to happen next, and I wish that the book hadn’t ended so close to what felt like the climax of each story. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this novel and I absolutely flew through it. Hopefully, I will get the chance to read more of Ellen Hopkins in the future.






Works Cited

Bean, Thomas W., and Karen Moni. “Developing Students’ Critical Literacy: Exploring Identity Construction in Young Adult Fiction.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 46, no. 8, 2003, pp. 638-648.

Hill, Beth. “Checklist for Editors.” The Editor’s Blog, 19 Aug. 2015, E.A. Hill, Accessed 3 Sept. 2016.

Hopkins, Ellen. Tilt. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2012.



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