Three women — Holly, Andrea, and Marissa — all stand at crossroads in their lives and relationships. Holly has long been a stay-at-home wife and mother, dabbling in various hobbies that she quickly abandons. Her latest? Writing erotica. She has recently dropped sixty pounds and become obsessed with her physique and new-found ability to turn men’s heads. She runs compulsively and is looking for excitement, feeling that her marriage to successful attorney Jace has become formulaic and boring.
Andrea is the divorced mother of thirteen-year-old Harley. She recently ended her relationship with Geoff, an abusive alcoholic. While she would love to find a caring man, she is also realistic. Meanwhile, her ex-husband, Steve, wants to move closer in order to spend more time with Harley, and allow her to get to know his new girlfriend and her son upon whom Harley has her first big crush. Andrea is often Holly’s partner in crime or, worse, alibi. But Andrea watches in dismay as Holly descends into danger, seemingly willing to risk the security and safety of the kind of marriage and family that Andrea has only been able to dream about.
Meanwhile, Marissa, Andrea’s sister, has more than her own share of struggles. Her husband, Christian, seems to be gone all the time — working, on business trips, or just plain avoiding reality. Christian has not coped well with their son, Shane’s, coming out. And their four-year-old daughter, Shelby, suffers from a degenerative muscle disease that will proof fatal. All responsibility for Shelby’s care falls upon Marissa, who hasn’t worn anything other than sweats or shorts since Shelby’s diagnosis at the age of under one years. Marissa knows how difficult it is to face the truth of Shelby’s circumstances because she must do it all day every day, even though most of their friends have slipped away because of their discomfort about interacting with people whose child is dying. Marissa and Christian’s marriage has also grown stale, with Christian sleeping regularly in the guest room. Will Marissa’s worst fears about Christian’s activities be confirmed and, if so, what will she do?
Triangles is the first adult offering from popular young adult novelist Ellen Hopkins. The story is composed entirely in verse, told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of the three lead female characters. It is a highly effective technique that draws readers into the emotional lives of the women as they describe their struggles and discoveries, and ponder what the future holds for them and their families.
The characters are believable and empathetic, and Hopkins tackles a number of difficult topics including parental reaction to a teenager’s revelation of his sexual orientation, infidelity, forgiveness, the impact of upbringing upon life choices, coping with a child’s terminal illness, and the challenge of keeping a long-term marital relationship fresh and exciting in amid domestic and child-rearing responsibilities. Hopkins explores each issue with frankness and candor, unsparingly chronicling each woman’s journey through a series of crises. Between each chapter, Hopkins includes free-flowing verses addressing the various themes of the story, dovetailing with the story’s action or the various characters’ reactions to events.
In Holly’s case, the journey is a frightening one. There is no doubt that Holly loves her children and husband, but she has recently begun exploring and gradually releasing the darker, wilder aspects of her personality that have remained a mystery even to her. Her behavior is shocking, even to her, but she is completely out of control and unable to rein in her urge to experiment, suggesting that she wants the secret life she has constructed to be discovered by her husband, Jace, even though the consequences could be devastating for all concerned.
Andrea’s confusion about Holly’s discontent, the ways in which their friendship is tested, and her ultimate decision about her future ring true and give the character an authentic voice. She struggles to make her daughter’s teenage angst less painful, but experiences understandable pings of jealousy when her ex-husband’s new girlfriend lavishes attention on Harley, leaving her feeling that she must compete for her own daughter’s affection and admiration. Andrea is lonely for male companionship and attention, but also comfortable with her own values and has learned painful lessons about the necessity of boundaries.
Marissa is the most endearing and sympathetic of the three women. She lives daily with the knowledge that her daughter will not grow up, and there is nothing that medical science can do to stem the progress of the degenerative disease that will claim her. She resents her husband for being absent most of the time and heaping all responsibility for Shelby’s care and the running of the household on her shoulders, even though she thinks she knows why he cannot face what is happening. She is also sympathetic to older son Shane’s anger and feelings of rejection that cause him to act out inappropriately, even though she sees brief glimpses of the tender-hearted boy she has always known.
Triangles is effectively a snapshot of a time period in the lives of Holly, Andrea and Marissa during which circumstances cause each to reevaluate and reconfigure their options. Hopkins wisely refrains from tying each story up with a ribbon, neatly concluding the book with pat resolutions. The result is a compelling look at modern family life from the unique vantage point of three complex women. I look forward to reading more novels geared toward adults from Hopkins.