Connor, Tony, and Vanessa are three teens struggling with different manifestations of mental illness. Each one is struggling with their own demons and has attempted to take their own life. They find themselves hospitalized at Aspen Springs where their very different lives intersect. Connor seems to have the perfect life. He is good looking and athletic with a wealthy family. That family comes to be his undoing. With parents that expect so much from him he crumbles under the pressure and attempts suicide by shooting himself in the chest. Tony has never had much of a family life and is living with questions about his sexuality and his place in the world. He turns to pills to end the pain. Vanessa has bipolar disorder and lives in the shadow of her bipolar mother. She cuts herself to ease the pain and one day goes too far. At Aspen Springs the three teens find themselves through group therapy, private sessions, and in common spaces like the rec room and cafeteria. In some ways their biggest steps forward come in the faith they put in each other. As they gradually heal and gain personal freedoms from confinement the story culminates with an adventure challenge that leaves two of them in love and one who succumbs to the pain.
Impulse is written in poetic form and tells the entire story of Connor, Tony, and Vanessa in verse. Using verse to tell the story brings the language being used directly to the forefront. Every word is carefully chosen for maximum impact and although the verse is sparse, it paints a vivid picture on every page. I am struck by the very vivid imagery the author uses in every scene. Each character has a very distinct voice not only in the words on the page, but the poetic format in which they are written. For example, Connor’s point of view is written in a block format with heavy use of enjambment. Each line leads forward to the next in a straightforward manner much like his demeanor. For Tony, the lines are even and coupled together with no use of enjambment in the lines. This format is easy to read and comforting, much like Tony is in the story. Vanessa’s point of view also uses enjambment, but the shape of her narrative is very different from both Connor and Tony’s. The story rotates between points of view, starting with Connor, going to Tony, and ending with Vanessa. The order of their voices never changes and they each receive three parts to the story at a time. In a way this formatting of the entire book reads like a larger poem in itself.
This book is an incredibly emotional experience. Each of the characters struggles with issues that are not only incredibly tragic and complex, but also very simple and relatable. As a reader I was able to identify with the emotions they are struggling to come to terms with in more ways than I thought I would and was deeply moved by the narratives. I had to put the book down several times in reading to take a breather and distance myself from the story. As far as being a young adult novel is concerned, Impulse is definitely a book for a more mature audience of teens. There are some very serious emotional issues being grappled with that take some maturity to understand. I think that the reader needs to take caution in where they stand emotionally prior to reading. I could see how someone struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts might even be triggered by some of the content. The book is also quite sexualized. I was surprised by Connor’s storyline and his physical affair with a former teacher and found his narrative to be pretty adult. While I don’t think that sexual situations and the abuse described in the book should be shied away from in young adult literature, I do feel that they are aimed at a more mature YA audience.