Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins

Books Features Ellen Hopkins
Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins

New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkins gives Violence a voice in her upcoming novel, tackling gun control and white supremacy in a visceral tale. Titled People Kill People, the book follows six individuals with motives to pull the trigger. Here’s the scoop from publisher Margaret K. McElderry Books:

A gun is sold in the classifieds after killing a spouse, bought by a teenager for needed protection. But which was it? Each has the incentive to pick up a gun, to fire it. Was it Rand or Cami, married teenagers with a young son? Was it Silas or Ashlyn, members of a white supremacist youth organization? Daniel, who fears retaliation because of his race, who possessively clings to Grace, the love of his life? Or Noelle, who lost everything after a devastating accident, and has sunk quietly into depression?

One tense week brings all six people into close contact in a town wrought with political and personal tensions. Someone will fire. And someone will die. But who?

People Kill People hits shelves on September 4th, but we’re thrilled to reveal the cover and to share an exclusive excerpt today. You can check out the cover, which was created by the Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry Books design team, below.

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And here’s your first look at the novel, in which Violence puts the spotlight on Rand’s character:

So, Just for Kicks

Let’s play a game.
We’ll call it Arizona Roulette.
Nice ring, don’t you think?
And you get to participate.

The rules are simple.
I’ll introduce you to the players
whose skins you will slip into.
You didn’t believe I’d let you
off easily, did you? Oh, not at all.
This will be an interactive experience.

All are connected, through love
or hate, work or school, by family
or friendship or marriage.
Each possesses an incentive
to pick up a gun, pull the trigger.

They’re my kind of people,
to a one willing—even eager—
to answer my rap on the glass
and crack open
the windows to their souls,
allow me inside to take up
residence in their parlors.

It’s a waiting game.
Simply a matter of time
until my incessant whispering
becomes impossible to ignore.

So, walk in their shoes.
Trace their threads
through the narrative
weave, then you decide
who will be the one
to succumb to my call?

See, I’ve got this theory.
Given the right circumstances,
any person could kill someone.

Even you.

Spotlight: Rand

Rand Bingham is a responsible guy.
He was just barely sixteen, and
Cami only fifteen, when they found
themselves in a family way.
Rand did right by the girl.

He married her,
because that’s what a reliable
kind of guy should do,
and because, yeah, he loved her.

That strong moral sense
didn’t come from Rand’s mom,
a bitter alcoholic who found out
about the impending nuptials
when her invitation arrived in the mail.
It was sent at Cami’s insistence.

Rand’s old-school dad sat him down,
helped him map out a plan.

“Lead guitar is not a viable future
for a young family. Beyond music,
what can you see yourself doing?”

Rand had given it some thought.
“I’m considering law enforcement.”

It’s been in the back of his mind
for quite some time.

He wants to be a cop.
He wants to take out bad guys.
He wants to settle a very old score.

But Arizona’s got standards,
and you have to be twenty-one
to graduate the police academy.

So until he’s old enough,
he’s getting a leg up on
his education, taking classes
part-time at Pima Community College,
studying criminal justice.

Plus, he’s working construction,
putting in as many hours
as are reasonable for
a student, husband, and father.

So, yeah, he’s absolutely responsible.
But he’s only nineteen.
And once in a while he just wants
to feel like a teenager again.

Fade In:
Slip into Rand’s Skin

It’s Friday evening, capping off a very long week. Scratch that. An excruciatingly long week. Sometimes you feel forty, but you’re not even half that. Sometimes you think that, at nineteen, you’ve put in more working hours than someone twice your age, for very little return. With luck, things will get better once you’re cruising in your patrol car, hunting bad guys.

I summon your attention. Hear my voice.

Patience, my friend.
Your effort will be rewarded
when you take down
the bastard who shredded
your childhood
with a single perverted act.

“Hey, baby. I’m home,” you call as your feet cross the threshold.

“Take off your shoes!” Cami yells from the back bedroom.

Routine. You unlace your boots, step out, and leave them by the front door, where the heavy-duty mat can catch the sand and sawdust clinging to your soles and pant legs. Even that small gesture makes you feel ten pounds lighter.

Cami wanders out from Waylon’s room, carrying the toddler, who sports red eyes and snot-encrusted nostrils. When the boy sees you, his hands telescope out, palms up, little fingers wagging in invitation. “Daddy!”

Even if you thought you had a choice, you wouldn’t say no, but
you idolize your son, so it’s a slam dunk. Your shoulders are weary, and your arms ache from swinging a hammer half the day. But you open them anyway, fold Waylon into them, ignoring the crustiness. This kid is the best thing in your life.

Your boy pouts a kiss against your lips, puffing a vague scent of
onions. “You been feeding the kid McD’s again?”

Cami shrugs and weathers your glare. “We had playgroup there today. It was just a cheeseburger.”

“That crap is garbage. Ground-up rat meat and fake cheese.
Don’t suppose he ate fries, too?”

“Fries!” agrees Waylon. “Yum.”

The tension falls away, dissolved in your son’s enthusiasm, and you sigh. “You’re gonna turn the boy into a regular porker. Besides, he’s sick. I bet your friends didn’t appreciate you jump-starting an epidemic.”

Cami rolls her eyes. “All the kids had the bug. We were boosting
their immune systems. Anyway, why are you so pissed? Hard day?”

Go ahead. Tell her every day is a fucking hard day,
and she doesn’t make them
any easier.

Nah. You kind of want to get laid tonight. At least, if you can find the energy. You put Waylon down on the floor in front of his Little People farm, and the boy picks up the Guernsey, gleefully repeating, “Moo says the cow.”

With his attention focused on the barnyard, you sidle over to Cami, coax her tight little body against your bulk. Your chin brushes her champagne-colored hair, and the scent that lifts is cinnamon apple.

“Sorry, babe,” you whisper into its silk. “I love you.”

She turns her face up to look into your eyes, grins. “You just
want to get laid.” But she rises up onto her tiptoes, licks her
delicate lips before kissing you.

The gesture moves quickly from “sweet” to “boner-worthy,” and as your tongues collide, you lift her off the floor. Another time,
you’d carry her off into your bedroom. But Waylon interrupts. “Rooster says cocka-doodle-doo-doo!”

Cami’s glittering laugh joins your unscripted guffaw. It was almost as if he purposely crafted the innuendo, though of course that’s impossible. He’s one smart kid, but he hasn’t reached stand-up comic status yet.

Finally, your sexy woman wiggles out of your embrace. “Go get cleaned up and I’ll feed Waylon.”

“You’re not going to feed me?” you sniff.

Cami shoots a seriously? look. “You forgot, didn’t you?
We’re supposed to go to the Rock tonight. It’s Grace’s birthday, remember?”

Grace is your stepsister, and as no-DNA-in-common family
goes, you’re close. She’s the younger sibling you always yearned for as a kid, and you’re more than a little protective of her. But all you want to do right now is eat in front of the TV, then play a few games of Sniper Elite on the Xbox.

“You don’t think we could back out of it, do you?”

Cami’s eyes narrow into dark topaz slits. “Only if you want to hurt
her feelings and make me mad. I’ve been stuck playing ‘momma’ all week. I want to shake my butt to some decent music.”

She puts her arms in the air, rotates her hips in spectacular fashion, reminding you of why you fell so hard for her. The first time you saw Cami, you decided she was the perfect girl, one you wanted to hang on to forever. Caught up in the daily tedium, it’s easy to forget those feelings.

It’s really not fair, is it?
You should be chilling
with your friends.
Kicking back, enjoying life.
Instead you’re stuck here,
forced into staid adulthood,
and it’s all her fault.

Waylon whoops, “Momma dancin’, Daddy.” The boy jumps to his
feet and joins in, singing along to an imaginary Beyoncé track, melting your heart like gum on August asphalt.

But that begs the question, “Who’s gonna watch the kid tonight?” Grace usually babysits on the admittedly few evenings you manage to invest a few bucks in recreation.

Cami quits her gyrations. “My sister.”

Your muscles clench into hard knobs. “Seriously? That’s not
such a great idea, is it? I mean . . .”

Cami knows what you mean. “It’s only for a few hours, and
Noelle’s solid. Her new meds kicked in great and she’s been seizure-free for weeks. She’s even applying to colleges.”

“It’s just . . . that one time . . .”

Was scary as hell. Noelle and you were sitting around, playing a car-racing game. All was well, or so it seemed, until her Camaro shifted into overdrive.

One minute Noelle was happily cheering on her stock car, the next she was jerking around on the floor, looking one hundred percent like a live toad tossed into a hot frying pan.

Her eyes kept blinking, blinking, as if she was trying to
understand exactly what she was seeing, and she mumbled
incomprehensible gibberish as spit-foam frothed from the
corners of her mouth.

You had no idea what to do, other than let the damn seizure run its course. It only took a few minutes, and as her muscles quit twitching, she kept asking, “What’s that smell? What’s that awful smell?” Even then, just after the main event, she wasn’t what you’d call “there.”

She kept reaching out, trying to pet the “kitty-kitty,” only there
was no cat, and when you tried to explain that, she insisted, “The
gray tabby, right there, sucking its tail.” That was scarier than the twitching.

Later, Cami explained that they’d had a gray cat when they were kids. A big fixed male, who satisfied his angst by giving oral to his tail. You haven’t look the same way at cats since then. Little Waylon better not ever ask for a kitten. A puppy, maybe. One day. Every boy needs a good dog.

Tonight, you have no real choice when it comes to a babysitter, and at least Noelle works for cheap. “Fine. But I can’t dance on an empty stomach. Just so you know, I’m starving.” It’s true, and happens too often, going straight from an early morning class to work, no time to make lunch before you leave home, nor stop for a bite in between.

Cami paints on her prettiest smile, meaning sarcasm to come. “We could always stop by McDonald’s on the way. Only no fries
for you.”

“No fries for Daddy!” agrees Waylon. “Only fries for me!” And he launches an off-key version of some Miranda Lambert ballad,
crooning into an imaginary microphone. God, your boy is amazing, better than might be expected from parents so young.

Cami’s taste in music is eclectic, and that’s a good thing, but if your son is to listen to metal, you’ll have to play it. Maybe one day the kid will have his own band, so you might as well teach him the good stuff. You aren’t exactly an expert, but you’ve played guitar since you were little.

It started with Guitar Hero, and when you begged to learn how to play the real deal, your dad signed you up for lessons. Your mom only laughed into her Tanqueray. “Don’t be stupid. You’re about as musically inclined as a chimpanzee.” She was, and remains, a bitch.

“I’ll show her!” That’s what you thought, and repeated it over and over in your head, like a mantra. Though not a natural talent, through hours and hours of practice, determination made you better than competent. “You could play lead in a band,” your teacher vowed. “Just steer clear of drugs. Drugs always take the best ones down.”

No drugs. No alcohol. Not even tobacco. Most of your friends moved into that space and called you a loser, but you had goals and stayed focused on your music, and believed what your teacher told you. Until the talent show.

Playing in your room was one thing; in front of a crowd, even a small one, was something else. Unfortunately, your mom was in the audience when you walked out on that stage, picked up your guitar, took a long look at all those expectant eyes . . . and froze. When people started to laugh, her familiar chime lifted about the rest and her words echoed in your head, ”. . . musically inclined as a chimpanzee.”

You will never forget it.
And never forgive your mother.

Your thirst to play lead withered completely. That guitar languished in its stand, collecting dust, until you finally sold it to
help pay for Cami’s maternity clothes.

Every once in a while, though, you wonder whether, if the law enforcement thing doesn’t work out, music might be an option. You’re older now, and less inclined to care what other people, including your mother, think. Cami would probably divorce you, but music might provide options there as well.

A few weeks back, while Christmas shopping, you almost bought Waylon a guitar. One of those cheap kids’ models with plastic strings in place of nylon. The flirty saleslady asked how old the child was and when you said two, she pointed out even that size guitar was probably way too big for a toddler’s hands. Then she smiled in a totally come-on way and asked, “So, does Daddy play?”

You were so busy being flattered that the double entendre almost slipped past. You caught it just about the time you
opened your mouth and managed to sputter, “A little.”

“Thought so,” she said. “You look like the type.” She touched
the back of your hand with her own cool palm. “Maybe you should splurge on yourself. I think you deserve it.” She was cute, tempting, and you realized how easy it would be to get away with a fling.

But then you glanced at that damn little guitar, and the thought skittered across your mind like a spider that one temptation could lead to another and everything you’ve achieved in the past couple of years could all go down the drain. You might even lose your kid.

And as you turned away, went back to the shelves to pick out
Little People and Hot Wheels sets, you wondered just when you’d turned into an actual adult.

A couple of days later, when Gram’s regular Christmas check arrived, you used it and some socked-away savings to buy Cami the new phone she’d been craving. Then you bought yourself a pawnshop guitar, because Santa would never bring something like that, nor like the other gift-for-yourself you’d been hoarding cash for. The instrument of vengeance.

And oh how famished
you are for revenge.

“Hey.” Cami yanks you out of your reverie. “You stink. Go take a
shower. Noelle will be here any time. And don’t worry. There’s
leftover sloppy joes, so you won’t starve.”

She’s not a gourmet cook, nor a very good housekeeper. Those things weren’t part of the deal, but you do hold out hope for

“Okay, fine.” You take two steps, turn back toward your wife. “Hey. What would you think about me joining up with a band?”

Cami’s face wrinkles in consternation, and you get a glimpse of what she’ll look like in a dozen or so years. Hopefully she won’t put on weight, too. “A band? When would you even have time?”

“I don’t mean tonight. I mean maybe in the future. It’s always been a dream of mi-”

“You’re not serious, right?”

Before you can say damn right I am, her cell phone rings. And when she answers it, turning her back on you and drawing
away to talk, irritation erupts like a rash. Prickles.

Don’t let her get away with that.

“Who is it?”

“Hang on,” Cami says into her phone before rotating toward you
again. “Shannon,” she tells you. “You don’t know her.” Now she points down the hall, an overt dismissal.

Still itchy, off you trudge to the bathroom. You have no idea who Shannon is, and you remind yourself to ask. It sure seems like
Cami’s getting a lot of random phone calls lately.

You let your dirty clothes fall to the floor, no plans to put them in the hamper. Cami can do it whenever. That’s her job. Once the water is steaming hot, you step under the cascade and close your eyes.

The heat accomplishes small miracles, unknotting taut shoulders and boosting your mood. You even attempt a mediocre rendition of Disturbed’s The Sound of Silence cover, cringing at the way the high notes bounce off the mildewed tile. Waylon might one day become the next David Draiman, but for sure his father never will. Fate can be cruel.

Then again, assuming all goes as planned, you’ll enjoy police work. Something that requires using one’s brain, not just his brawn. It’s a career most people respect. You’ve even heard there are cop groupies, not that you’re exactly in the market at the moment, but you never know what tomorrow might bring.

Fate is not only cruel, it’s unpredictable.

But it’s within your power
to manipulate fate.

Fade Out
Fate Is Unreliable

Better to take a tight grip
on your future, manipulate
it to the best of your ability,
not that it’s possible
to completely eliminate
some arbitrary interference.

You might think my existence
is all about grasping control,
but humans are a capricious
lot, given to acting on whims.
That’s just fine by me.

I thrive on randomness.

Thrill to curiosity.

Celebrate rage.

Relish jealousy.

Above all, I worship
the most awful, awe-inspiring
human short failing there is.


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