Study Guide

Perfect Family

By Ellen Hopkins


The more she goes/on, the more I'm sure the carpet/guys understand. There is no/possible way to satisfy our mother. (1.26)

What Cara never acknowledges is that her mom isn't satisfied with herself—if she were, she could be satisfied with external things. Do you think Cara even realizes this consciously?

The pressure they exert individually/is immense. As a team, it's almost/impossible to measure up. (1.29)

This is how it always works with bullies, and parents can definitely bully their children. When you have someone else feeding your antagonism, it intensifies. Why else do bullies always have posses?

I struggle daily to maintain/the pretense. Why must it be/ expected—no, demanded—of/me/to surpass my ancestors' achievements? (4.2-3)

There's a whole 'nother level to the parental pressure Andre gets. He's not just responsible for making his family look good; he's responsible for making African Americans look good.

I will/ forever walk beneath an umbrella/of expectation. Mom and Dad/have a plan for me and won't talk/about alternatives. (5.12-13)

Have the narrators of Perfect ever tried talking to their parents about alternatives, or are they too busy hiding the alternatives they dream of out of fear of disapproval?

Sean idolized his father. He pulls into/the driveway, and even from here I can/see sadness in the forward tilt of his/shoulders. It's a memory-shadowed day. (5.25)

Sean's a classic lost boy. Even though our teen years are when we most intensely think our parents are lame, they're also the time we most need them to guide us. When you're standing on the precipice of adulthood, you need some trustworthy adults to show you how to do it.

Finally he says, My mom loved/roses. She grew them everywhere/in our yard, and when she died,/Dad went kind of crazy and/tore them all out. (5.32-33)

Have you ever broken up with someone and thrown out (or burned) all the stuff they gave you? This is the same action, but on a much larger scale. Sean's dad reacts to his wife's death by killing other living things, ones he can kill without consequences… except, of course, for totally traumatizing his son.

I wait for some sign of sadness. But Sean responds/instead with a quick jab of anger. Stupid/b****. He takes a deep breath. If she hadn't/gone all New Agey, she wouldn't be dead. (5.50)

Sometimes it's easier to tap into anger than sadness, which we see Sean doing here over his mother's death.

Because Cara's Mom/reminds me of crystal --/all sparkly and beautiful/distraction while it carves/you clear to the bone. She/is a don't-turn-your-back-/on-her kind of woman. (7.34-35)

Distraction is another kind of denial, and not liking who you are can cause you to become consumed with fooling other people. The thing is, when they turn their backs on you, you're alone with yourself.

Daddy pretty much/pretends we don't even exist anymore. (10.52)

And look: another kind of denial. Kendra and Jenna take it personally, but the truth is that people often ignore other people because they can't deal with what they themselves have done. If someone's ignoring you when you haven't done anything wrong, it's usually way more about them than it is about you.

For some/asinine reason, Patrick decided he needed/to play Daddy tonight. He called a family/meeting. First, he accused/Kendra and me of stealing Mom's Xanax. (32.43)

And here's one final kind of denial: refusing to see how your kids (or step-kids) are destroying themselves until it's too late.