Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review: Crank, Ellen Hopkins

When Kristina visits her estranged, low-life father in another city she encounters Adam, a baby-faced boy who introduces her to the monster: crystal meth. A normally shy, studious girl, Kristina morphs into Bree, a wildly unpredictable girl who can only think as far as her next fix. Her family don't understand what happened to their sweet little girl, and Kristina doesn't know if Bree will ever let her come back.

Getting a character from straight-As, shyness, and conservative friends to meth-addicted party girl is a challenge for any writer. Going back over the first eighty pages or so of Crank reveals how skillfully Ellen Hopkins transformed Kristina into Bree. She's in a new city with a lax parent, away from everyone who knows her as the good girl, the virgin, the smart one. She's also resentful of her mother for taking her father away from her (as she perceives it), so what better time to act out? Plus, there's the cute boy who's noticed her, and it's impossible not to have your head turned by the first boy who shows a proper interest. There's this "coulda happened to anyone" feel about it.

This is my first Hopkins book and I loved it. I'm not a big fan of poetry and only read one or two other verse novels. As someone who writes and reads prose I find poetry too miserly, too obtuse, too self-conscious. And bad poetry is something akin to food-poisoning: a revolting experience. Crank is good poetry. Fantastic poetry. It's so easy to lose yourself in it. The pages turned without me even noticing and I was pulled quickly into the story.

I've heard Tricks, Hopkins latest verse novel about teenage prostitution, is pretty horrifying and while Crank deals with some heavy subject matter, it's not upsetting or overwhelming. When I was a teenager crystal meth hadn't surfaced in Australia (or was just surfacing). Heroin was the demon drug. They ran the heroin toll alongside the road toll in the newspaper. Nobody was curious about heroin where I came from. The needles and the junkies and the films we saw were a huge turn-off, and protected us from being even mildly curious about the drug. But crank (ice or crystal as it's known here), while it has a pretty bad reputation, has only relatively recently surfaced as the new drug demon--as opposed to opiates like heroin that have been around for hundreds? thousands? of years. And whether the horrors of addiction have filtered down to teenagers like the horrors of heroin addiction did when I was a teenager, I have no idea. But packets of little white powder that you put up your nose (like coke, and how glam is coke! Let's all be Kate Moss!) are far more palatable than a syringe full of heroin that you put up your arm. Which is why I'm angry Ellen Hopkins was banned from speaking at an Oklahoma school earlier in the year. Knowing how a popular, highly addictive and easily administered drug can affect you can only be a good thing.

There's gushy text-speak in a few of the poems I found jarring and dated, but Crank was released in 2004 so was probably on the cutting-edge of publishing at the time. Hopkins was inspired to write this book after her daughter became addicted to crank, and I suspect that the events of the novel closely mirror real-life events. What an experience for Hopkins to go through.

When I was in high-school I had a mental list of Things Not to do When I Lose My Virginity, garnered exclusively from the woeful first-times had by girls in books. If I'd read Crank at the time I would have added 5. Not on drugs. Crank is highly recommended to everyone. Especially if you live in Oklahoma.

The sequel, Glass, was released in 2007 and the next book, Fallout, is due for release in 2010.


  1. Oh, I have been meaning to read these. My students love them (A LOT), and they look really wonderful. Great reviews!

  2. I tried reading this is junior high but I couldn't get through it because it was so..upsetting. I think I'll give it a try again now though.

  3. You really should guys! This is the first of Hopkins's books and I can't wait to get to the rest of them.

  4. I've heard these are wonderful books. And, yes, upsetting. Perhaps I shall give Crank a try. Thanks for the great review.

  5. i am reading crank and i love the layout of the pages..its interesting enough but still very challenging to read..only because i used to do crank but i quit a year ago..and i think it just pushes me not to turn back.. GLASS look interesting but my school library doesnt have that series!. anyways great book..i reccomend it to anyone who wants to experience somewhat, of what it feels like to be an addict.

  6. My name is Lauren, all the way from Canada, great just great. seriously..im in love with this book CRANK!

  7. Lauren, I thought Hopkins wrote very realistically as well. It's such a good book, I'm glad it's helping you.