COLLATERAL by Ellen Hopkins

I have never read a novel in the form of poetry before. It was a bit of a surprise to open this to begin reading to find it all in verse form, and initially was a little weird to read. But once I forced myself to get over the different format, reading became a strangely captivating experience. There is nothing like poetry as a vehicle to tell a love story. The sparseness and pin point accuracy of language is achingly beautiful, passionate, sad, violent, loving, and memorable, at the same time telling a story. 

Here, at the bottom of the world, we aren't a society very familiar with being at war. So it is probably difficult for most of the population to fully relate to the impact that being a Marine at the coal face in Afghanistan can have on the family and partner left behind, and on the self. Cole is such a Marine, Ashley is his long term girl friend. For five years and four deployments Ashley and Cole work very hard at keeping their love alive, and at the same time trying to retain their own individual sanity. There is nothing like war to heighten the emotions and make one live with a little more feeling.

Narrated primarily by Ashley, with odd bits of poetry in Cole's voice, the story moves between the past from the time the two of them met to the present day. Different fonts indicate who is speaking, and what time period we are in. Ashley is a college student, studying poetry. She and Cole meet one night in a bar, connect instantly, and it is full on from day one. Their passion is very intense and beautifully rendered into free form verse, but as we all know passion is not enough to keep a love alive. And slowly over time the relationship begins to falter - the distance, the long periods apart, his daily dice with death vs her daily college routine, similar relationships around them crumbling - all contribute toward an inevitable conclusion.

Since the beginning of time, the lives of those without the power have been torn apart by war. As much an indictment of war on the average person, the way this novel is written also shows how a small story can leave such a big impact on the reader. After all in the scheme of things Ashley and Cole are really just the cogs in the wheel of the war machine, yet their story rings with hope, poignancy and loss. I don't know how this book has been received by the families of those serving in Afghanistan; how true this particular scenario is. But I don't think it actually matters. Love and overcoming obstacles are part of what we do as humans, and so this setting really only serves to highlight the intensity of what we all feel. Outstanding. 

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