Collateral: A Novel

Collateral: A Novel

by Ellen Hopkins


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From the New York Times bestselling author of the novel Triangles—a gorgeous, “raw and riveting tale of love and forgiveness” (Publishers Weekly) about a woman torn between her love for a dedicated Marine and her resentment of the war that is tearing their lives apart.

The last thing Ashley ever expected was to end up a military wife. But Cole doesn’t match her stereotype of the aggressive Marine. He’s pas­sionate and romantic, and their relationship evolves into a deeply felt, sexually charged love affair that survives four deployments. Cole desper­ately wants Ashley to marry him, but when she meets another man, a college professor, she begins to see what life might be like outside the shadow of war.

Written in Ellen Hopkins’s stunning poetic verse style, Collateral cap­tures the hearts of the soldiers on the battlefield and the minds of their friends, family, and lovers who also sacrifice their lives and happiness for their country at war. Is the collateral damage worth the fight?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451626384
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 07/23/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 287,298
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Ellen Hopkins is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Triangles, as well as nine young adult novels, including the Crank trilogy and Tilt, which are beloved by teens and adults alike. She lives in Carson City, Nevada, with her family. Visit her online at

Read an Excerpt


As Earth returns to chaos, her women brace to mourn,

excavate their buried faith, tap reservoirs of grace, to mourn.

Soldiers steady M-16s, search stillborn eyes for welcome

or signs of commonality. Ferreting no trace, they mourn.

Few are safe, where passions swell like gangrened limbs

you cannot amputate. Sever one, another takes its place,

and you mourn.

Freefall into martyrdom, a bronze-skinned youth slips into the

crowd, pulls the pin. He and destiny embrace, together mourn.

Grenades are colorblind. A woman falls, spilling ebony hair

beside the blond in camouflage. Death’s doorman gives chase. All


Even hell capitulates to sudden downpour. Cloudburst sweeps across

the hardpan, cracks its bloodstained carapace. Hear God mourn.

Up through scattered motes, a daughter reaches for an album. She

climbs into a rocking chair to search for Daddy’s face, and mourn.

Downstairs, a widow splinters on the bed, drops her head into his

silhouette, etched in linen on the pillowcase, to mourn.

Alone, the world is ugly in black. When final night descends

to blanket memory, drops its shroud of tattered lace, who will




About war, creating vivid images

of severed limbs, crusting body fluids

and restless final sleep, using nothing

more than a few well-crafted words.

Easy enough to jab philosophically

from the comfort of a warm winter

hearth or an air-conditioned summer.

But what can a sequestered writer know

of frontline realities—blistering

marches under relentless sand-choked

skies, where you’d better drink

your weight in water every day or die

from dehydration? Flipside—teeth-

cracking nights, too frigid for action,

bored out of your mind as you try

to stay warm in front of a makeshift fire.

How can any distant observer know

of traversing rock-rutted trails,

hyperaware that your camouflage comes

with a built-in bull’s-eye; or of sleeping

with one ear listening for incoming

peril; or of the way fear clogs your

pores every time you climb inside

a Humvee and head out for a drive?

You can see these things in movies.

But you can’t understand the way

they gnaw your heart and corrode

your mind, unless you’ve been a soldier

outside the wire in a country where

no one native is really your friend,

and anyone might be your enemy.

You don’t know till you’re ducking

bullets. The only person you dare rely

on is the buddy who looks a lot like

you—too young for this, leaking bravado,

and wearing the same uniform.

Even people who love soldiers—

people like me—can only know these

things tangentially, and not so much

because of what our beloveds tell us

as what they’ll never be able to.


Me about falling in love

with a guy in the military,

I’d tell you to about-face

and double-time toward

a decent, sensible civilian.

Someone with a fat bank

account and solid future,

built on dreams entirely

his own. I’d advise you

to detour widely around

any man who prefers fatigues

to a well-worn pair of jeans;

whose romantic getaways

are defined by three-day

leaves; who, at age twenty-

six has drunk more liquor

than most people manage

in a lifetime. He and his

fellow grunts would claim

it’s just for fun. A way to let

their hair down, if they had

much hair to speak of. But

those they leave behind,

devoted shadows, understand

that each booze-soaked

night is a short-lived

retrieve from uncertain

tomorrows, unspeakable

yesterdays. Service. Sacrifice.

The problem with that being,

everyone attached to those

soldiers must sacrifice, too.

So, as some Afghani warlord

might say, put that in your

pipe and smoke it. Okay, that

was actually my grandpa’s saying.

But it works, and what I mean

is, think long and hard before

offering your heart to someone

who can only accept it part-time.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Collateral includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Ashley Patterson, a graduate student and poet, never expected to become a military wife. But she and her best friend, Darian, fall for soldiers, both on separate paths to war. Darian and Spencer marry right away, for better or for worse, but Ashley and Cole choose to take it slower. Five years and four deployments later, Ashley is still passionately connected to Cole—her poetic, sensitive Marine. But as she looks back on the history of their relationship, she realizes that he has changed—the fear and tedium of war are starting to take a toll. Ashley’s doubts grow as Cole rises in the ranks, and she finds herself drawn to her poetry professor, Jonah, a laid-back surfer who encourages her to follow her dreams and never settle for anyone else’s ambitions. As Cole’s suppressed fury comes to the surface, Ashley must find the courage to fight her own battles.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Discuss what it was like to read Collateral, a novel in verse. How long did it take you adapt to this narrative form? When did Collateral feel especially poetic, and when did it take on the fast-paced style of prose?

2. In “Poets Write Eloquently,” Ashley observes that poets try to capture the horrors of war “using nothing / more than a few well-crafted words.” (MS-pg. 1) What aspects of war does the poetry of Collateral manage to depict? What kinds of trauma can no poet capture in words?

3. Consider how Collateral alternates between “Present” and “Rewind” sections. How did this switch between past and present enrich Ashley’s story?

4. Choose your favorite poem by Cole Gleason and compare it to Ashley’s “Rough Day at the VA,” which Jonah thinks is her best. What are some of the similarities between Cole’s style and Ashley’s? How do their poems differ in style, subject, and imagery?

5. Recall your first impressions of Darian, Ashley’s best friend. What did you think of Darian’s preconceptions about marriage? How did your understanding of Darian’s troubles change later in the novel? Did you gain or lose respect for her by the end of Collateral? Explain your answer.

6. “But there was something new under / Cole’s skin. Some dark shadow.” (MS-pg. 442) Name some of the warning signs of Cole’s “dark shadow” that Ashley fails to recognize.

7. Discuss the role that family history plays in Ashley and Cole’s relationship. What dark secret has Ashley’s mother been hiding, and how does her revelation affect Ashley’s feelings about marriage and the military? How do nature and nurture—a family history of violence and the dangers of the Middle East—affect Cole’s temper?

8. Cole reassures Ashley, “I’ll always come back to you, Ashley. / You are my collateral. My reason / to return no matter what. Believe it.” (MS-pg. 212) Discuss the multiple meanings of the word “collateral.” What kinds of danger and hope does the title of the novel imply?

9. Consider how gender issues affect the relationships in Collateral. How do Ashley and Cole’s views of male and female roles clash? When does sexual intimidation or jealousy threaten their relationship? Which couples in the novel have a more balanced relationship?

10. Jonah tells Ashley, “When love evolves / from friendship, it must be stronger.” (MS-pg. 379) Do you agree with Jonah’s thoughts on friendship and love? Why or why not? Discuss how his theory applies to the men in Ashley’s life: Cole, Jaden, and Jonah.

11. The sexual chemistry between Ashley and Cole is undeniable. Which of their love scenes is the most memorable? Why do you think they are so intensely attracted to each other?

12. Reflecting on the past five years, Ashley realizes that while Cole’s maturity was imposed on him by the military, “My growth came from self discovery. / Choosing one path, journeying a while, / changing direction.” (MS-pg. 458) Compare how Ashley and Cole have grown over the years of their relationship. What has Ashley discovered about her strengths and weaknesses? How has Cole’s military career affected his maturation?

13. Consider Ashley’s career ambitions. Why did she initially choose to pursue a social work degree instead of teaching? What leads her to change her mind and study poetry?

14. The novel concludes with a “Fast Forward” section rather than a “Rewind,” and is set a few days before school begins. What is the effect of this “Fast Forward?” What painful moments has Ashley skipped over in her narration?

15. Discuss how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are portrayed in Collateral. Which characters support the war and which oppose it? How does the novel manage to portray different sides of a difficult conflict?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Check out IndieFeed, a podcast that collects spoken-word performances. Search for some of Ashley’s favorite poets— Rachel McKibbens, Alix Olson, and Taylor Mali— and listen to their dynamic performances here:

2. Ashley and Darian used to play a game called “What If:” “One of us asks a ‘what if’ / question. The other promises / to answer truthfully.” (MS-pg. 91) Play a book club version of “what if” asking other members which of their favorite books they would take to a desert island, pack on a long vacation, or hide under the mattress.

3. Set the mood at your book club meeting with the Dixie Chicks’ album Fly—Ashley and Darian’s old favorite. Find it in your local music store or buy it online, and don’t forget to sing along to “Cowboy Take Me Away.”

4. Consider donating time or funds to a veterans’ organization in your area. Visit to find a veterans’ facility near you.

5. Visit Ellen Hopkins’s website,, to learn more about the author’s life and work, and to read her helpful tips for aspiring writers.

Customer Reviews

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Collateral: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read every single book by Ellen Hopkins. Im telling you read anything and everything by her because her books will always give you something to think about. They do what books are supposed to do: entertain!
BlkosinerBookBlog More than 1 year ago
Holy wow. This was my first Hopkins book and let me just say that I was blown away. This is a story that packs quite a punch and left me reeling. She totally surprised me with the ending but yet I was happy and broken hearted all at the same time. Collateral is def a book for mature teens and if it is not classified adult I think it is a perfect candidate. There is more steamy scenes than I am used to with traditional ya but I think it was still in good taste and fit with the tone of the story. There is also drinking and sinew pretty disturbing scenes but I think it use one of the most realistic stories I have read about soldiers. I think that it was said best though that you can't really understand unless you are a soldier or the emotional toll that it takes on a family or loves one that the soldier leaves behind. Ashley the main character took me on quite a journey with her and it was an emotional one. I really felt for her and understood the places her mind took her. She was brave for the decisions she made and I appreciate the emotional cost of the decisions she made and the growth that I saw in her how she loves Cole, finds herself and ultimately makes the best choices for herself no matter how. Bottom line: Hard hitting, emotional story about a soldier at war and the woman he leaves behind.
KDH_Reviews More than 1 year ago
Ellen Hopkins is one of my favorite authors. To date, this has been the only novel of hers that disappointed me. One of the things I've enjoyed most about Ellen Hopkins's books has always been her ability to pull off stories done in verse. It didn't happen here. While I want the story to be a complete story (and it was), it didn't read like poetry to me. It read like a story that was cut up and formatted to look like poetry instead of being actual poetry. This was probably the biggest disappointment for me. The story was frustrating. There were so many times when I wish Ashley would just get fed up with Cole's BS and leave him. Ashley is supposed to be smart, but her actions prove otherwise. As someone that's been in a relationship and refused to leave (even when I knew I should) because of love, I could understand to a certain extent. By the end of the book, though, I was irritated and fed up with Ashley. Instead of seeing a smart woman, I saw a weak, selfish, and naive girl. After everything she had been through with Cole, it was disappointing to see that she had grown little as a character. Cole's character is hard to flesh out in the story as we don't see very much from his point-of-view. We're presented with certain facts about him and left to fill in the rest of it ourselves. Unfortunately, I feel like this paints Cole into a negative light that doesn't necessarily do justice to who he really is. [Note, I'm not defending him or his actions.] Overall, I didn't care for Collateral very much. I was really looking forward to this book and I'm saddened that it didn't live up to my expectations. That being said, I'm sure many people will love Collateral. 2.5/5 stars
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although this book was written well and in a unique manner, I would not recommend it to someone who is in a relationship with a military member. Throughout the novel, Hopkins drills in the dangers of dating marines. I thought this was a bit unfair. When all was said and done, the strongest message I took away from it was that marines are damaged and not suitable for healthy relationships. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was so good. I could not put it down. I rrad everything ellen hopkins writes she is my favorite author. Collateral was just so different. I know little to nothing about the military and what their families go through everyday. For me to get insight was interesting as well as shocking. The twist and turn in this book were so unexpected. Th eending caught me off guard. It was a great book and i hope everyone reads it. It gives you a insight to the military life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ellen obviously does not write a bad book. It keeps your interest through out the entire book. The way she flips you from past to present time keeps you wanting more. The story line is such a great idea because its relative to the world around us now. The things we ignore that we shouldnt! She should have went more indetailed with some of the events and scenes! It leaves you wishing she would have wrote more and developed the character and scene more. All in all though very happy and would reccomend it. GOOD BUY!
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings My second Ellen Hopkins book and this one was just as good as the last, if not even better.  Centered around the war abroad, this book takes you into a relationship between a young woman and a new Marine as they try to live through deployments and very minimal time together.  The book unravels with many details that affect her relationship from his commitment level to past experiences her parents have had with the military - I never realized how many outside factors can affect a relationship beyond the two who are involved.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wasnt exactly what I was expecting but overall definetly a great book! I will reccomend to anyone who enjoys this type of book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can't get passed this author calling Marines "Soldiers". Soldiers are in the United States Army. Not the United States Marine Corp. Individuals in the Marine Corp are Marines. I'm in the Air Force and I'm an Airman. Navy are Sailors. I wish people would stop calling every military member Soldiers. Decent book though although I'm not a fan of the book written in stanzas.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good nook book
reader02VA More than 1 year ago
I did not particularly care for the style in which the book was written. I had a hard time staying interested.