To my knowledge today’s guest is the first Hall of Famer I’ve ever hosted! In 2015, Ellen Hopkins was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame for her powerful and honest work. She’s also a generous mentor and a long-serving member of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Advisory Board. It is a huge honor to celebrate Ellen and her newest novel, Closer to Nowhere (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books), which received a starred review from School Library Journal, which wrote: “Readers will root for these realistic characters, and will cheer for the growth they experience.”

Ellen Hopkins

As my readers know, real life threads itself quite obviously through the pages of my novels. Inspiration comes from many sources—friends, readers, strangers-in-the-news. Some stories are beautiful, others heart-wrenching. And some of the most poignant come from people very close to me. 

The three novels that comprise my Crank trilogy (Crank, Glass, Fallout) were inspired by my daughter’s story of addiction. Her walk with the monster lasted some twenty years, periods of sobriety alternating with addictive phases. Over that time, she had seven children, all of whom were affected in some way by her lifestyle. My husband and I adopted her first baby, who’s now 24, and became legal guardians and fulltime caretakers for three more.

C came to us at nine years old, bringing with him PTSD, the result of early childhood trauma. The symptoms included huge meltdowns, taking off when the pressure became too great, and crafting huge falsehoods whenever the truth was too overwhelming. But he had a brilliant mind and huge heart, and overcame his problems. Still, when he started his new school, he developed the reputation of being the “weird kid,” and found it extremely difficult to cultivate friendships.

In Closer to Nowhere, the main character, Cal, was inspired by our real-life C. Their backstories are different, but their problems are similar. After Cal’s mom dies, he moves in with his aunt, uncle, and cousin, Hannah, who is everything Cal isn’t—focused, goal-oriented, and the most popular kid in her class. 

The new living situation is hard on everyone. Money’s tight. Uncle Bruce is traveling more for work, leaving Aunt Taryn lonely and stressed. Hannah’s irritated at Cal’s relentless pranking and ridiculous lies. As for Cal, in his words:

I’m Cal, and I’ve been lost

since Mom died three years ago.

Oh, I could show you exactly

where this town is on a map, 

lead you through the maze 

of its streets, though I’ve only 

lived here fourteen months, 

three weeks and 

two days.

I’m safe for now.

But I don’t know

how long that will last.

I’m afraid 

if I start to believe

I belong here,

everything 

will change 

again.

It’s like off in the distance

I can see something 

that could be home

but every time I start 

in that direction

it’s further away.

And, no matter how hard

I try to reach it, 

I only get closer

to nowhere.

Closer to Nowhere is tribute to C, who can’t change the past, but can create the future he wants. So can every kid out there like him. As for the kids who aren’t like him, I hope to help them empathize with those who struggle to fit in, and maybe look a little harder for the good inside them.

Over the course of the book, Cal learns to trust and open himself a little wider. Hannah learns patience and finds a whole lot of good inside her cousin. Together, they grow as a loving family. As Cal’s epilogue says:

I’m Cal, and I still feel a little lost

when I think about my mom.

I guess I always will.

But things are better now . . .

I still lose it sometimes

and I still have nightmares.

But I also have good dreams. 

And I remember them . . .

Hannah and I argue,

and I’ll probably always prank her.

Just not in a mean way.

That home in the distance,

the one I could never reach?

Today, I’m much closer to it

than I am to nowhere.

Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins is the award-winning author of twenty nonfiction books for young readers, fourteen NY times bestselling young adult novels, two middle grade novels and four novels for adult readers. She lives near Carson City with her extended family, two brilliant German Shepherds, and two ponds (not pounds) of koi.