(2006), a young adult novel by American author Ellen Hopkins, follows teenage protagonist Pattyn, who lives with her devoutly religious Mormon family under the thumb of her abusive father. A dream about a boy leads her to question her faith and make fateful decisions that change her life and the lives of those around her. Exploring themes of religion, teen sexuality, and parental abuse, Burned
was widely praised for its in-depth exploration of a teenage girl’s mind and its unflinching depiction of an abusive family. However, Hopkins’s harsh portrayal of the Mormon Church was met with controversy. A sequel, Smoke
, was released in 2013 and continues the narrative from the perspectives of Pattyn and her sister Jackie.
Pattyn, seventeen years old and eldest of seven girls in a strict Mormon household, lives under her drunken, abusive father’s rule. He beats his wife, believing a woman must submit to her husband. Her mother believes it’s her duty to have as many children as possible, but both of Pattyn’s parents are disappointed that they have only had girls so far.
The children are all named after famous generals. From youngest to oldest, they are Georgia (Patton), Roberta (Lee), Davie (Davis), Teddie (Roosevelt), Ulyssa (Grant), Jackie (Pershing), and Pattyn (Patton). Pattyn disagrees with the way her family lives and the expectations imposed on her; she wants to break free, to be her own person outside of her father’s control. She resents both her cruel father and her submissive mother, and she wishes she didn’t have to pick up the slack and care for her siblings due to her father’s alcoholism.
Seeking to break free from her role in life, Pattyn starts dating a boy named Derek without her parents’ knowledge. This leads to a situation where Pattyn’s drunken father catches her getting drunk in the desert. Derek soon leaves her for a more experienced girl, and Pattyn punches the girl in anger. As she starts rebelling more and more, openly stating her disgust with her family’s lifestyle to her parents and the bishop, her parents send her away to live with her Aunt Jeanette in Nevada. It’s around this time that Pattyn’s mother becomes pregnant with a boy.
Pattyn’s Aunt Jeanette, or Aunt J, is a kind and friendly woman, and Pattyn loves her time in Nevada. She also becomes close with an older boy, Ethan, and starts dating him. She learns that Ethan’s father was Aunt J’s high school sweetheart. However, not long after they begin dating, Pattyn and Ethan are pulled over by a deputy. Pattyn’s father is in the car, and he brutally beats Ethan, threatening to kill him if he doesn’t stay away from Pattyn, all because Ethan is not Mormon.
Pattyn becomes more confident while living with her aunt, and she learns that there’s more out there than her father’s strict, cruel view of religion. Aunt J tells Pattyn that anyone can love God and enter heaven by following their own version of faith. Pattyn and Ethan grow closer with each passing day, and they soon have sex for the first time. However, Pattyn receives letters from her sister Jackie, who reveals that their father has begun beating Jackie as a stand-in for their pregnant mother, as she’s now the oldest “woman” in the house with Pattyn away.
Pattyn’s father soon demands that she return home for the school year, and Pattyn and Ethan try to make the most of the time they have left together. They have sex more frequently, and more recklessly. When Pattyn returns home, she starts the new school year with more confidence. However, her father soon turns his rage on her. She finds out she’s pregnant not long after returning home, and she and Ethan plan to leave Nevada and raise their child together. They get a gun for self-defense.
Word gets back to Pattyn’s father that they’ve been seen together planning to leave town. He calls his deputy friend to stop them, and a high-speed car chase ensues. Ethan loses control of the car and crashes. Pattyn wakes up in the hospital to learn that Ethan is dead and she lost the baby. When she leaves the hospital, Pattyn’s father excommunicates her from the family. She vows vengeance on her father and anyone else who’s wronged her.
All of Hopkins’s fictional works are written as free-verse
novels. Many of her books deal with adult themes like drug use, child abuse, and questions of faith. The author of sixteen novels, she received a 2006 Silver Pen Award for emerging writers from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a full member in 2015.