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In pop culture, YADA-YADA usually means "blah, blah, blah" or "more of the same." For this blog, YADA-YADA is an acronym meaning "Young Adult Discussions About Young Adult-Designed Art." Check out my summaries and reviews of teen media. Chime in and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blog No. 10--Crank by Ellen Hopkins


Title: Crank
Author: Ellen Hopkins

Bibliographic Information:
Published October, 2004
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)
Grade Range: 9 and up, Age Range: 14 and up
ISBN-10: 10: 0689865198
ISBN-13: 9780689865190
Young Adult Fiction 7.2 x 5.4 x 1.7 inches
Hardcover: 544 pages

Abraham Lincoln Book Award Master List (IL)
ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
Charlotte Award Suggested Reading List (NY)
Gateway Readers Award Nominee (MO)
Green Mountain Book Award Master List (VT)
IRA Young Adults' Choices
Kentucky Bluegrass Award Master List
NYPL "Books for the Teen Age"
Pennsylvania School Librarian Association (PSLA) "Top Ten (Or So)" Young Adult Books
Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults
PSLA Fiction List
Soaring Eagle Book Award (WY)
SSLI Book Award Honor Book
YALSA Teens Top Ten (TTT)

Reader’s Annotation: Kristina Georgia Snow is the perfect teenager—an A student who never causes any trouble—until a court order forces her to spend three weeks with her father whom she hasn’t seen since she was seven. While “under the influence” of this low-life, irresponsible, addicted man, Kristina gets mixed up with the “monster” (crystal meth), turns into Bree, a wilder version of Kristina, and begin a slide into the abyss of addiction and all the destructive behavior that follows it.

Plot Summary:
Kristina Georgia Snow lives in a nice area of Reno, Nevada with her mother, Marie; stepfather, Scott; sister, Leigh (a lesbian); and a brother, Jake. It is a perfectly boring but upright middle class life, and although she is a model child with good grades, something inside her feels wrong. She attributes this feeling to missing her biological father, whom she hasn’t seen since she was seven years old. Her dreams reveal the fights between her mom and her father, but she still holds him on a pedestal of sorts. During the summer, she is forced (via a court order) to spend three weeks with her dad. When she arrives in Albuquerque, the heat of the area and of her quest melts her inhibitions, and Bree, the alter ego who has been largely asleep while in Reno, begins to more fully awaken. Bree is the outgoing, in-your-face version of Kristina, who knows what she wants and how to get it. Still, Kristina is in charge, and for the most part keeps Bree under wraps, at least until Kristina meets “Buddy” aka Adam, a hot young teenage boy who lives in the apartment near her dad. Kristina has been watching him kiss another girl, Lince, and has been wishing she was the one being kissed. Meanwhile, life at dad’s is worse than Kristina thought. His living conditions are deplorable, and his work ethic basically non-existent, except for an under-the-table job in the bowling alley where he has a constant supply of drugs and women. Kristina, feeling more confused about her own life and where she fits in, becomes vulnerable to the Buddy’s attention, and his own crank addition. Against Kristina’s better judgment, and at Bree’s urging, she tries all kinds of drug, and eventually snorts crystal meth. The drug lowers her inhibitions, and Bree comes out full force, craving togetherness with Buddy. Her need for attention feeds her growing addiction, until her three weeks are up and she returns home with a homemade tattoo carved into her leg, and a promise from Buddy that they will be together again. .

Back in Reno, she sees that life with Mom isn’t too bad—there’s food, everything is clean, and she largely feels safe. However, Bree and the absence of excitement gnaw at her. How can she face everything without them? At Scott’s company picnic, she meets Brendan, a good-looking life guard. When she sees him, Bree comes out and flirts. At this event, Kristina learns more about her friends, especially Robyn –a cheerleader who uses drugs to keeps up with all the demands of school. She also meets Chase—an “unattractive” guy whom mom would never approve of. They get together, do some drugs. But there is something kind about Chase. He’s not attractive, but he is interesting and knows a bit abut literature. So Kristina/Bree ends up confused between three young men: Buddy/Adam, the hot guy from Albuquerque who writes to her; Chase, the kind but unattractive guy whom she feels safe with, even when they do drugs together, and Brendan, the user and player who eventually sells her crank, takes her virginity and gets her pregnant. Bree has allowed her life to go completely out of control and what’s worse, doesn’t care one bit. But maybe—just maybe—the life growing inside her will help bring Kristina back.

Critical Evaluation:

Although Crank was Hopkins first novel, it was not the first one of hers on my reading list. I had to compete with the many students at my library to check them out, and, for some reason, Crank is the book that is most seldom there. (We had purchased two copies originally: within a week, one was stolen). So, I actually read Tricks, her most recent novel first, followed by Burned, Glass, Crank and finally Identical. I have not yet read Impulse, but I will soon.

While Crank certainly pushed the YA Literature envelope in many ways, bringing needed attention to the problems of drugs in the middle class world, it is not nearly as controversial or graphic as her more recent novel, Tricks. However, I found that in terms of real poetry—meaning images that evoke emotion—Crank was by far Hopkins’ best novel. She writes in the first person—a must for good poetry of any kind these days—and brings readers into Kristina’s world with beautiful metaphoric images. In the “chapter” Alone, Hopkins introduces the problems Kristina sees in her world: a lonely teenager always doing the right thing, constantly feeling that she is being ignored or upstaged by other members in her family. She hates being seen as the perfect daughter, so she invents a persona, Bree, who shouts obscenities, “farts with gusto” and is not quite sane. Hopkins introduces this alter-ego with a poignant metaphor: “Alone/there is only the person inside/I’ve grown to like her better/than the stuck-up husk of me” (Hopkins, pg 4). It is this internal character who Hopkins makes responsible for Kristina’s eventual downfall, with Kristina hiding, sometimes fighting to stay “alive.” The real poetry continues: “I suppose she’s always been/there, vague as a soft/copper pulse of moonlight/through blossoming seacoast fog.” (Hopkins, pg. 6).

Hopkins handles dialogue within the poems in an interesting way, almost as a battle between real talk with interior thought. For example, when Kristina is at her father’s dilapidated apartment in Albuquerque with Adam/Buddy and they are having an intimate moment, the narrative-like dialogue on Kristina is on the left, with Adam’s on the right in italics, almost like a call and response (it won't transfer that way to this blog, however):

“It was gentle persuasion.
I can’t get enough of you.

Sweet coercion.
My beautiful angel.

Magnet to metal.
I’ve got to have all of you.

It was hands, exploring taboo places.
Oh God! You’re perfect!”
(Hopkins, pg 96).

Yes. From a poetic perspective, Crank is by far Hopkins’ best book. From a story perspective, it holds up, too. Sustaining poetry for 537 pages is quite a feat, and for Crank at least, Hopkins manages to do an admirable job.

Reading level/Interest Age:
This book is recommended for 9th grade and up, and ages 14 and older. Interest age would depend on the maturity of the reader. In general, I would not recommend any of Hopkins’ books to anyone under 16, due to the difficult subject matter. I definitely think this is a book for reluctant readers, as it is easy to handle despite its numerous pages. Strong readers may appreciate Crank for its poetic imagery, and those with an understanding of poetry may find it interesting to read as a study of different narrative forms. However, I don’t think this, or any of Hopkins’ books, would appeal to the higher-level student who are used to reading classics in school. For them, this would be a good summer beach read.

Information about the Author:
No one should be surprised that Ellen Hopkins started out as a poet, since each of her young adult novels is written in the broken lines of both rhymed and unrhymed verse. Hopkins herself says “that in a previous life, I was a freelance writer, nonfiction author and, then and now, a poet” (Hopkins in Red Room, 2009).

Compared to many other YA authors, there is not much biographical information on Ellen Hopkins outside of her own website, although she is probably one of the more fan-accessible writers today. Married to John Hopkins for a lot of years, Ellen Hopkins has three grown children—two daughters and one son—as well as a twelve-year-old son at home in Carson City, Nevada. Her own webpage contains the most information available about her—especially in the FAQ section, where she answers readers’ questions about her life. She wrote twenty nonfiction books before becoming a YA author, but those titles are not available.

According to her website, http://www.ellenhopkins.com/ , Ms. Hopkins was born in 1955, but was adopted by a much older couple. Her adoptive dad and mom Albert and Valeria Wagner were 72 and 42 years old respectively, at the time of her birth. She grew up in the Palm Springs area surrounded by many of the rich and famous like Elvis Presley and Bob Hope. Her father, a hard-working man with a sixth grade education, made most of his money during World War Two in the steel industry. She had her first child, Jason at 21, followed by Cristal in 1978. Cristal is the real-life Kristina in the books Crank and Glass and the upcoming Fallout, scheduled for release in 2010. Her daughter Kelly is from a “rebound relationship” that happened after her divorce from Jason and Cristal’s father. Hopkins has been writing her entire life, but didn’t begin writing “for money” until the 1990s when she moved to the Carson City area. She met her current husband, John Hopkins around 1985, and they married in 1991. He is her best friend and her “forever love” (Hopkins, 2010).

Curriculum Ties:

Could be a good example to use in a poetry unit with an Honor’s English class to compare and contrast poetic forms, and to debate whether or not some poetry can work as a narrative.

Booktalking Ideas:
Imagine a true story about a perfectly beautiful and intelligent young woman who, after years of not seeing her father is forced by the court to visit him—and he turned her on to crystal meth! Imagine yet, this true story ends up becoming a very popular, bestselling novel—written by the young woman’s own mother? Imagine this, and you have Crank, by Ellen Hopkins. If you were this girl, how would you feel about your life—and your addiction—being read about by millions of teenagers across the world?

Challenge Issues:

Drug use, and rape scene. How to overcome challenges: point out the numerous awards, and discuss the benefits of compelling subject matter for reluctant readers.

Why I Included This Book:

All of Ellen Hopkins’ novels seem to disappear from our library shelves. This one, her first, is the more interesting in terms of real poetry: it contains stunning images, compelling metaphors and uses interior/exterior dialogue in unusual ways. Good for reluctant readers. For higher level readers, it is a quick (one-day) read.

Cover image courtesy of: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Crank/Ellen-Hopkins/9780689865190

Lines of poetry courtesy of Crank by Ellen Hopkins.

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