Hope Defined

Hope DefinedHope Defined follows the intertwined stories of girls from two different worlds. In this case, really really different worlds.

Hope is a freshman in high school. She lives in a poor and primarily African American neighborhood, but goes to school in the more affluent adjoining neighborhood. She has only recently moved in with her mother, so she doesn’t really have friends at home or at school. She acts too white to hang out with the black kids and is too black to hang out with the white kids. She’s very bright—a bit of an inventor who sees ideas in her dreams. But she’s teased as a nerd rather than accepted for her innovative ideas, even among the other really bright kids.

Dinah lives in a much more peaceful world, but it’s being disrupted by disturbances in Hope’s world. Dinah is coming of age, learning more about her culture and how to keep balance in the world. But she’s also intricately connected to Hope, and Hope’s despair is making it hard for Dinah to rest.

The two girls have to learn to come to terms with themselves and figure out what they value, and somehow the fate of the world rests in the balance.

I’m not a huge science fiction fan, so I had trouble getting involved in Dinah’s storyline. There was a whole new set of terminology, and it was a very theoretical world, and at some point I lost several of the threads. It feels like this book is a set up for a series, since it’s really only toward the end that the stories start to come together, and not a lot in the overarching plot is resolved. It’s obvious that a lot of thought and love went into creating the interconnected world, with mythologies from both worlds hinting at a former close connection that’s been corrupted.

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid


Racial identity plays a pretty big role in the story. Admittedly, this isn’t something I’ve had a lot of experience with, and some of the name calling made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t done in love, and it used words and phrases that I would never say and have rarely heard except in movies.


Hope deals with significant bullying from both groups she doesn’t fit in with.  They bully her both emotionally and physically. They throw her science project out the bus window. They tell lies about her. They shoplift, leaving her with the stuff and then threatening to tell on her. Finally, they pull the fire alarm at school, and in the chaos, they kidnap her, pull her into a bathroom, and forcibly shave her head. She refuses to tell on who did this to her.

Although Hope’s friends try to stand by her, several of them tell her that she’s a bully magnet because she doesn’t value herself. If she were sure of her identity and proud of who she was, the bullies would be powerless against her. This occasionally got a little too close to victim blaming for my comfort.

Both Dinah and Hope have every reason to be paranoid—there are in fact people conspiring against them, trying to keep them from excelling, no matter the cost.


There’s some actual battle against forces of darkness in Dinah’s world. The violence in Hope’s world is more mundane, but still disturbing. There’s gunfire that kills three people near her house—we never learn who, because the violence itself is the point. Hope’s mother beats her with a leather strap and with a switch. Hope asks a friend to teach her how to fight, and she does in fact get into a fight at school—Gwen hits her first, then she returns the punch. She does decide, though, that this probably won’t solve the bullying problem.

Etinosa becomes friends with Hope. She’s from Nigeria, living here with her sister because “bad men” killed her father and the rest of her family. Hope thinks Etinosa is beautiful and normal, and she serves as an anchor as Hope explores her own identity issues.

Peer Pressure

In her attempt to fit in, Hope starts hanging out with the other black girls in the neighborhood. They smoke weed and play kissing games with boys. They shoplift and lie to their parents. They’re always dodging the cops. Hope smokes one joint, gets major munchies, and falls asleep without doing any of her homework, thus failing a quiz and getting in huge trouble in school. I suppose it’s a good anti-drug message, but it seemed kind of unrealistic to me for so much fallout to come from one joint.


Hope’s mom was a teenager when she was born. Hope spent a lot of time with her grandma, where she was happy and well adjusted. Now she’s living with her overworked mom and stepdad who are overly controlling of her life. She has no place where she’s happy and fits in.

Dinah lives with her father, who is an important person in their community. Her mother is essentially dead, although as we learn later, not so much dead as exiled. Mostly Dinah gets along very well with her father, but she’s starting to rebel against him, especially as she learns some of the secrets he’s been hiding from her.


Hope reads the Bible and prays every night, but she doubts the existence of God. The existence of Dinah’s reality suggests that human ideas of God are faulty at best.


Dinah’s whole society is built on secrets—you shouldn’t even wonder about something until it’s your time to know. Those who are young, less evolved, are kept from knowing hard truths, even when they’re affected by them. Seeking knowledge before it’s your time is a pretty major infraction.

You do your duty, even if it means your friend will get hurt. You maintain balance, because that’s necessary for the greater good, even when it’s at the cost of what matters to you. Those who question or think for themselves are possibly infected by dangerous forces and should potentially be destroyed.

Dinah does rebel against these ideas to some extent, but it still seems like this is held up as an ideal world. I wasn’t completely comfortable with that.


There’s some mild cursing like “hell” and “damn.” “Strumpets and whores” are referred to, as well as women who “commit the unspeakable with multiple men.”


Hope’s family doesn’t have a lot of money. She gets her clothes from a thrift store. Her mom and stepdad each work two jobs. They aren’t poor, exactly, but money is an issue. She’s well aware of how this prevents her from having the same advantages as the upper class kids when competing for spots in a prestigious science program—even if she gets in, she knows it will be hard for her family to pay for her to get there.

However, Hope somehow still manages to purchase things for her inventions like specially ordered titanium. I get why the plot needed this to happen, but it seemed like a disconnect to me.


There are too few women and too few people of color writing and being written about in science fiction. I’m glad this book exists. I think it will be best appreciated by readers who will enjoy the world building, which sadly was not me. It’s probably best for older tweens, maybe 12 and 13 on up, who will be able to identify with Hope’s identity issues.

Disclaimer: The author provided me with a copy of the novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Hope Defined by Shannon Humphrey
Published in 2013 by Shannon Humphrey
First book in the upcoming Dinah Dynamo series
Read a paperback supplied by the author


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