Study Guide

Perfect Strength and Skill

By Ellen Hopkins

Strength and Skill

Between dance lessons/and vocal training and helping out/at the food bank (all grooming for Miss/Teen Nevada), I barely have time for/homework, let alone fun. (2.10-11)

None of the activities Kendra participates in are fun for her. Her family doesn't care if she enjoys what she does; they just care about her winning.

Doesn't matter. Once I hit eighteen,/my pageant winnings will be all mine/to spend, and I will have the D cups I need/to kick ass in the cutthroat world of fashion. (2.58-59)

Runway models usually have very few curves, but for some reason, Kendra's perception is skewed. Plastic surgery is a way of exerting control over her body, of doing something to "improve" it, even when the improvement is actually detrimental.

[…] a real athlete shapes himself/muscle group by muscle/group, ignoring the/pain./Focused completely on/the gain. It can't happen/overnight. It takes hours/every single day/and/no one can force you to/do it. Becoming the best/takes a s***load of inborn/drive. (3.4-6)

Sean is the narrator who exhibits the most inborn drive. The other characters are trying to live up to their parents' expectations, but in the absence of parents, Sean pushes himself.

"I like winning them." Like every eye on me,/and when those eyes find me fairest of all./What I don't like is what it sometimes/takes to win. Backstabbing. Manipulation. (6.18-19)

If you have to manipulate the game and sabotage the other competitors to win, is it really winning? Do the judges really find you "fairest of all," or are they just responding to your tactics?

To win is to prosper./The game is defeating doubt./And the fun is in the game. (8.5)

Andre thinks life would be boring if it was friction-free, and winning is proof he's smarter and has more endurance than other people.

This isn't about winning./It's about conquering, and when/he errs, there's more than pride/on the line. (13.33-34)

Sean's anger comes out when he's on the field. People who are angry at the world often try to conquer it—it's a way of proving they're right.

Being The Hero/Ain't all bad, and while part/of me wants to go straight/after Cara, most of me likes/soaking up the limelight rays. (19.42)

Sean may feel some genuine love for Cara, but really, she's just another thing he's trying to conquer. Dating the most popular girl in school is another way of getting the limelight.

Shantell is right, you know./You were destined to/dance. If you try to ignore that, you'll be/completely miserable. (36.49-50)

Shantell's not an Andre fan when she finds out he's dating a white girl, but his dancing wins her over. It's the way he begins to redeem himself in her eyes, and she wants him to prove he's worthy of her esteem.

One of the judges,/this brilliant Broadway choreographer,/totally loved me, at least it/seemed that way. He gushed about technique,/and when he found out I've only been training/for a relatively short while,/called me one of the greatest natural talents/he's ever seen. (48.35-37)

Andre isn't sure if the judge is telling the truth or being hyperbolic for the camera, but he'll take the encouragement. Perfection is all about perception instead of reality, and "reality" shows are just another example of this.

I mean, putting/a ball over a fence, and/hearing people cheer for/me, well, that's a solo/effort, and a definite rush./Dead people don't get rushes. (55.7-8)

Conner's death causes Sean to experience a moment of personal insight. We can only hope the trend (insight, not suicide) continues.