83 pages 2 hours read

Ellen Hopkins


Fiction | Novel/Book in Verse | YA | Published in 2004

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Symbols & Motifs

The Tattoo

Content Warning: This section of the guide discusses drug use and substance use disorder, which feature in the source text.

In a disturbing sequence that Kristina views as highly romantic, Adam, her first boyfriend, tattoos a heart on her thigh the night before they part. “I want to give you something…So you’ll never forget me” (178), Adam says, “stashed under your skin” (178). To Kristina, the tiny heart is a “very big symbol” of their union (178), ink and flesh becoming one. It is a heady romantic gesture that couches something toxic: Adam uses an unsterilized needle to tattoo Kristina. Further, the tattoo literally marks her as his and thus carries a whiff of possessiveness. Additionally, the tattoo gets Kristina in trouble with her parents. Kristina begins to resent the tattoo soon after the rush of getting it is over. On the flight back, she notes it is “red and raw” (180). By the time she examines the tattoo in her bathroom at home, she “silently scream[s] / at the angry / green pocket of pus / beneath / the purple welt” (195). Kristina cynically notes that the forever symbol of love is already tainted.

The infection of the tattoo symbolizes the unhealthy nature of Adam’s love for Kristina.

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By Ellen Hopkins