This is a mostly satisfactory conclusion to the trilogy that rocketed Ellen Hopkins to the heights of literary fame. In it, we see the long-term consequences of Kristina's decisions: children. Dysfunctional children with dysfunctional families.
"FALLOUT"'s problems have more to do with the author's decisions than her storytelling. She is constantly making references to her literary success and playing them up against Kristina's failures as a person, which came across as harsh and narcissistic in equal measures. In the last two books, events were based only loosely on reality. This time, I felt like there was more of Ellen Hopkins in the story than Hunter, Summer, or Autumn. Marie Haskins is painted as the perfect mother figure (beautiful, successful, struggling oh-so-hard to come to terms with her sorrowful life) and talked about quite a lot, whereas Kristina is transformed into the villan. She is now the family slut who can't do anything but self-destruct, which is more than a little irritating to see. For someone who claims to have learned a lot about the pain and complex nature of addiction through her writing, Hopkins isn't too sympathetic here. Depictions of our anti-heroine, with whom the reader could once identify, as a mindless burden to her family are reoccurring, as are phrases like "Kristina ought to be here for her children"--despite the fact that it is unanimously agreed that Kristina is an unfit mother. Hunter's easy forgiveness of Brendan on the other hand was outrageous. Somehow he was able to find kinship with his father (who, as we all know, raped Kristina while they were high) but couldn't bring himself to find the same sort of compassion for his mother.
There's also a fair amount of preaching. More than in her previous stories. It isn't outright, but it's there. I loved "CRANK" because it was never disparaging in spite of the purpose for its inception, and Hopkins never got too personal with what was meant to be fictitious. "FALLOUT" definitely creeps into "GO ASK ALICE" territory. I couldn't help but roll my eyes every time someone brought up 'the monster' and how thoroughly it trashes people's lives. The readers have stuck it out this long. I think it's safe to say we know how damaging crystal meth can be. Another thing that bothered me was how many times Mexican drug cartels were mentioned in reference to drugs (the bust involving said cartels and marijuana? really? please.)--along with the prevalence of the drug itself. What are the odds that each character knows at least three people with close ties to meth? It is without a doubt a highly popular substance in this part of the country, but its unfaltering presence in the story was almost ridiculous. You'd think no other drug existed in Kristina's universe. I'm surprised not EVERYONE is a tweaker!
And as with a few of her other novels, the romantic angles in this one were awkwardly drawn. There's just something about Hopkins's characters that has them falling in love all over the place at the drop of a hat. But of course, with the girls, none of them are very proactive in the relationship. Hopkins seems to be a fan of having her protagonists talk about how nice it is that their boyfriends don't pressure them into having sex, something which they rarely have experience with. It would be nice to have a girl comfortable with her sexuality or an inexperienced, reluctant boyfriend. In this story, however, the only autonomous women were periphery characters like Leah, who only served to further the plot by ruining others' relationships. Hunter, on the other hand, is constantly thinking about sex and makes no secret of his lust.
While we're on the subject of Hunter, I have to say how not unimpressed I was with the way he's drawn. Kristina's eldest son is the stereotypical "guy": aggressive, sexual, and highly superficial. These traits wouldn't be a bad thing if they weren't so common in this author's work, which is an unusual road for someone so fond of contemporary views and controversial subject matter to take. But I'm beginning to see that Ellen Hopkins writes stock characters more often than not, disguising the fact with complicated pasts and an angst-filled present. While they all have unique histories, their actions are very uniform, with similarities according to their gender. For example, a common element: as soon as the story starts, the girl (who's never been very popular and doesn't think of herself as particularly pretty) instantly attracts the attention of a boy who make it a point to tell her how beautiful she is. This happened with Kristina, Pattyn (of "BURNED"), Vanessa ("IMPULSE"), and Autumn. But whereas his siblings were slightly more accessible as characters, Hunter's actions made no sense. Aside from his puzzling reaction to Brendan and judgement towards Kristina, his treatment of Nikki was downright poor. There was nothing self-aware about the way his hypocritical behavior was written; unlike Summer, whose reactive cynicism clearly had a point, Hunter was just a jerk I felt the author wanted us to feel sorry for.
As far as quality goes, the verse faltered in places and the writing became stiff. I got the feeling that Hopkins was trying too hard for the abstract, wanting to sound intelligent where brevity and simplicity would've done fine. There wasn't much rhyme or reason to her structure this time, either.
Overall I have to give this one a three. This installment was a fun ride at first, but I found myself agitated with its progression and had to skip through sections (particularly Hunter's) because I was so frustrated with the reasoning and degeneration of character. In some novels, having unlikable characters is an intentional decision. Here, this didn't seem to be the case. Here it was a side-effect of poor development. I can forgive purposeful stupidity on characters' part when stupidity is the point. But as a follow-up to "CRANK" and "GLASS", as something that was meant to tie up loose ends and function in a straightforward manner, I was disappointed. This is no longer the story of Kristina, but of Ellen Hopkins. I'm starting to wonder if fame isn't going to this author's head.