In Defining Circumstances

Original publish date: 3 July 2014

Take a scientifically-minded girl and her alien “other half” who can control electrical impulses and resides on a different planet and connect them via a sort of dream realm and you’ll have the basis of Shannon Humphrey’s Hope Defined. There’s the old adage you have to see to believe, but you also have to be ready to see, experience, and accept those things, which seems to be a takeaway from the text.

Hope, the scientifically-minded and ambitious 13 year old girl, is bullied in her neighborhood and school for trying to be white and acting better than those she grew up with in a less than stellar town. Hope gets her ideas for her inventions when she’s sleeping, when she sees Dinah, a girl who looks like her but happens to emit a light from within her, and is inspired from what Dinah can do. Hope desperately wants to be an astrophysicist and through a school competition, she would have a chance at getting to study at MIT during the summer to broaden her scientific skills and improve her collegiate options. And all that Hope has to overcome is her bullies, her mother, and her own lack of self-confidence to succeed. And that’s no small feat to confront.

The story is imbued with racial issues, classist issues, bullying and abuse, as well as science fiction elements for Dinah’s chapters. It was refreshing to read a book from a young black narrator, if only to harp on the #WeNeedDiverseBooks aspect of the publishing industry. But not since I read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school have I enjoyed reading a story rich in African American Vernacular English.

I must say that I was more excited by the possibilities of this concept than I was satisfied with the execution of it I the end. Maybe it was simply due to my lack of engagement and connection to Dinah and her “world” that I felt let down; or maybe it stems from the loose connection between the two entities’ stories, which made it seem as if Humphrey was trying to tackle too much in a finite story space.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5.

One comment

  1. jenpaul13 · January 3, 2015

    I wanted to make a note of a comment from the author, Shannon Humphrey, which I unfortunately didn’t see on my previous site until I was transferring everything over. Here’s what she commented:

    “Shannon Humphrey · Los Angeles, California
    Hey, Jen, wow! This is such a wonderful surprise! Thanks so much for taking the time to read Hope Defined. It was very cool to open Twitter and see that I had fresh feedback! I actually agree with you. I don’t think I tied together the deep connection between Hope and Dinah on my first writing attempt. I wanted to keep some separation between their journeys in Book 1, because it is their separation that underscores all the tough trials they overcome to grow closer in Books 2 and 3. Most people identify with Hope because she’s what is familiar to us, and Dinah is the foreign and unknown. The scifi diehards tend to think Dinah is way cooler and stronger and they find Hope’s whininess a little annoying. The premise of the series is to inspire girls of color to see both sides of ourselves – the huge chasm between what we are (Hope) and all the great things we could be (Dinah). 

    My goal in the upcoming Book 2 “The Invisible War” is that, as I depict Dinah and her world in more detail and as Hope grows and witnesses suffering on Earth, readers will appreciate Dinah’s significance and will even empathize with her as she makes tough choices and sacrifices for Hope and Earth. 

    I am truly glad that you gave this your time. You are one prolific blogger and I am SO jealous! ;-)”

    I’m quite happy to have read this book and hope that the book is serving as an inspiration to all girls, especially girls of color. I am flattered by Shannon’s jealousy of my reading habit!


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