Review: Crank by Ellen Hopkins

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Crank by Ellen Hopkins was… tough. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really like it at all but I could not put it down.

A real life horror story, Crank follows Kristina/Bree as she rapidly descends into drug addiction.

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This opening poem sets up this first book, in addition to setting the tone and establishing Hopkins’  free verse style, it establishes that drug addiction is an endless cycle that begs the question – what, or who, is the monster in this relationship? And, in the end, does blame really matter?

As I said before, the book isn’t necessarily for enjoyment, though the poetry in it’s free verse formatting is certainly achingly beautiful and poignant, but more a way to share experience. It’s A brutal way of giving advice through a medium and through a perspective that might just have readers sit up and take heed. So, while it isn’t delightful (as some argue literature should be) it is certainly unforgettable as we read Christina seamlessly slip into drug addiction, sex and the decisions one might make to stay in that world.

Looking back over those first pages it is barely noticeable why or how Kristina begins taking drugs – she is visiting her father, he’s a deadbeat working in a bowling alley and living in a shack (not a palace) and though he is already part of the drug crowd it isn’t him that ropes her in, and it isn’t necessarily a boy (Adam) either. I can feel it happening as she steadily moves towards taking meth but, well, it just happens. Of course there is a decision there, but it feels effortless, natural and then the book sweeps you onward down the spiral of addiction. This aspect, which can seem small, is huge for me. I can just see so many people, young and old, explaining their actions in this way: “It just happened.” and Hopkins allows us readers into that perspective. For Kristina, who becomes wild, seductive, bad girl Bree, meth addiction “just happened.”

The wisdom, or advice here is: don’t let drug addiction “just happen” to you. Or, to who you really are.

Hopkins’ creates this eerie mood, it feels like the reader is walking on eggshells as Kristina becomes Bree and begins to shatter, and to enhance this mood is the way the verses are sculpted. One of my own hesitations about verse novels is that… well, where is the novel? But I am once again wooed by verse, these poems don’t need all the words of a traditional novel to tell their story, they use the page, the contrast between the black typeface the blankness of the white, they use type settings and page turns. It is brilliant. The flow of the words, the use of the blank space and the way each page leads to the next all seem to mimic the feeling of being under the influence of meth. Each page presents a different shape, direction and interplay of text formatting in order to walk the reader through the mood and the tone, to show and not tell the reader what drug addiction is like.

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While this book is clearly a warning to teens, and on many a school reading roster, for me it didn’t feel overly didactic until I was finished and I let my mind mull on it. Of course the book’s intention is to tell a story of pain so that the reader might avoid it. Yet, while Crank is a window into what a life choice could bring you – and it isn’t all bad. Well, it is mostly bad, but as an optimist I choose to see that there is a chance for happiness and redemption as Kristina moves forward and makes more decisions. In this way, it isn’t a damning of all drug addicts, it isn’t saying “if you’re already doing drugs you are doomed” instead it is pointing towards the difficult choice to quit and the possibility of move on.

Kristina, by the end of this first book, hasn’t actually quit and it isn’t clear if she will or not (though she says she will) but there is hope born out of all of the turmoil and we can only hope that, if we (the reader), were in her position we too would want to, strive to, quit.

**CAUTION: Though written in poetry, this book is very realistic (another excellent aspect of the book) and depicts sex, rape, taking drugs and has plenty of foul language. Read it and recommend it at your own risk, but I’d keep it at least 12+.