"You must become so free that your very existence is an act of rebellion." -Albert Camus
1 controlling star.
RUMBLE, by Ellen Hopkins, tells about the life of 18-year-old Matt, who has been on edge ever since his younger brother Luke committed suicide. Since then, his life has gone to shambles. He's lost his brother, his best friends, his parent's marriage is falling apart and his own relationship with his girlfriend is being tested to an uncomfortable point. Acting out in anger is one of the only ways that Matt can cope with all of these issues and he begins a steady cycle into self-destruction.
I admire what Ms. Hopkins tried to do in this novel. She tried to showcase the after-effects of suicide, the importance of forgiveness, and the destruction of relationships all within 500 or so pages. There is a strong chance she could have done this successfully as well if she hadn’t warped, perhaps, the main point of her novel: Control.
Matt is suffocating himself with his desire to control. He wants to control his parent’s marriage, he wants to control his girlfriend, he wants to control his environment (“I need order. I’m used to order”). And who can blame him? He has lost his brother, which was out of his control, his parents are at each other’s throats, something else that is also out of his control, and his own relationship is slowly, but surely, disassembling itself. With all of this pressure, it’s no surprise that the only way he feels like he can regain his life is to enforce every bit of dictatorship he can muster.
There were many passages referring to his girlfriend, Hayden, that reek of Matt’s desire to not only control her, but to literally possess her:
“Hayden turns, waves and her smile is all for me. I think. She gives Jocelyn a quick hug and as she starts away the guy touches her arm, redirecting her attention toward his goodbye. I definitely want to kick his spindly ass.” (Jealousy over innocent gestures by other men.)
“Any guy with a libido and half a brain would want to possess her…” (Trying to justify his powerful feeling of possession over her.)
“Arm still firmly wrapped around Hayden’s waist…”(He is even controlling in his body language.)
“The way she believes every word. The control that gives him.” (This basically spells it out for the reader.)
Perhaps the most frightening of all:
“Having no one to rape and nothing to pillage but myself, I step into the hot water stream, lather up with Mom’s fancy rosemary bath gel, and when I close my eyes, it is Hayden I imagine ramming into, take extreme pleasure in her pain.” (Rape is one of the ultimate forms of control.)
Hayden can feel this control, jealousy and possessiveness in him. It, quite rightly, scares her.
“But sometimes I worry if I tell you what’s on my mind, you’ll freak.”
“Sometimes you scare me.”
All of this control, all of this jealousy, finally culminates into a stand off where Matt physically forces his possession onto Hayden,
“Our hands unlace and I think our lives have, too, and I just can’t let that happen. I maneuver her back against the building, place one hand on each side of her face and repeat, ‘What are you saying?’” (Here he has quite literally trapped her in place, as he's been trying to metaphorically trap her into their relationship the entire time.)
As the book goes on, Matt learns to relinquish some of that control. This comes in the form of forgiveness. All of this time he has been playing the blame game when it came to his brother’s suicide. He blamed his father, his mother, his friend’s, his girlfriend, her friends, himself and, most importantly, a book that is based on interpretation. These grudges he has been holding (which are also a form of control) one by one slip lose and he steps back into the light of forgiveness.
“I blamed the Bible, when its words were not at fault, only the way they’re interpreted by those too willing to wield them like chain saws, cutting other off at the knees.”
However, the rest of the control remains, especially when it comes to his relationships with women, and it is covered up and sugared over, which is where this book lost its merit. Matt never realizes he has a control problems in terms of intimacy. Yes, he acknowledges his OCD-like issues with cleanliness, but there is so much more under the surface that he needs to deal with, and never does. Instead of working on his problems, he finds a girl who will perfectly suit his needs for possession, a girl who is desperate enough to be whatever he wants her to be, unlike Hayden.
“’They say puppies are good for mending broken hearts,’ she joked once. ‘Woof, woof. You can pet me if you want.’” (Willing to change herself for his benefit.)
“She winks. ‘Anything I can do to entertain you, my dear.’” (Willing to demean herself for his benefit.)
The worst part of this is that the author never mentions it. She leaves her character blind to this particular short coming and expects the reader to forget his earlier problems with control and Hayden. I don’t think the author was blind to his controlling personality. Why else mention the fact that he has OCD tendencies? Why else mention how he wants to literally possess Hayden and spend every waking moment with her? My issue is that she did not even attempt to resolve it.
Perhaps the worst part of this is that by the end, after Matt has forgiven himself and those who bullied his brother, he thinks: “Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned through all this, it’s to have faith in love.” He mentions his parent’s loss of love and how his father had found it in someone else, and how Matt found a new, and supposedly better, love with Alexa. I cannot believe that his innate issue with possession gets thrown to the side to try and make this novel about him not trusting love.
This was never about love. This was never about forgiveness. This was never about faith. This book was about a young man who needs to learn how to live his life without having to control every aspect of it, and that was not given the proper attention. Matt should have been in counseling for his control problems, not his problem with forgiveness,because his problems with forgiveness will go away as he learns to let go of wanting to be in charge of everything. He should have never entered into another relationship without even fixing what went wrong in the first.
This novel had the opportunity to convey a strong message but, in my opinion, never reach its goal