Back in late April when a middle ear infection won me a couple
of days bed rest I discovered a YA novel by Ellen Hopkins that had me
over the moon. I said I'd read the rest of her many books. However,
a series of events such as the play I was in, nursing my Joey cat back
from emergency surgery, and helping students with end of semester work
filled not only my time, but my brain space. Then I had the great
good fortune to help with a Friends of the Library book sale. I was
doing what no one else wanted to: making periodic circuits to check
our downtown signage and talk the sale up and, in between, carrying
bags and boxes of books to people's cars. We had scads of books, a
lot of which we'd end up donating to Kiwanis. When the woman running
the sale said I could take books I really wanted to read I was like my
Joey set down in a room full of catnip, especially when I laid eyes on
one of Hopkins' earlier works, Crank. I read that book under the most
ideal of conditions (on my outside swing, a strong breeze keeping my
windchimes in motion, with a goodly stash of dark chocolate) and found
it riveting and thought provoking.
An author's note before the first chapter is very worth
quoting: "While this work is fiction, it is loosely based on a very
true story--my daughter's. The monster (meth) did touch her life, and
the lives of her family. My family. It is hard to watch someone you
love fall so deeply under the spell of a substance that turns him or
her into a stranger. Someone you don't want to know." Think on that.
Kristina, Hopkins' protagonist, is a high achieving, quite well
behaved middle child high school student in a blended family. Mom is
an aspiring writer, seen by Kristina as "distant". Stepdad is highly
demanding. College big sister, Leigh, has come out of the closet.
Little brother, Jake, is the unexpected cute child who stole her place
in the family.
There is, however, a side to Kristina who is the antethisis of
her perfect persona, a being she calls Bree:
"not quite silent,
shouts obscenities just because
They roll so well off the tongue
not quite straight-A
but talented in oh-so-many
not quite sanitary
farts with gusto, picks
her nose, spits like a guy
not quite sane
sometimes, to tell you the truth,
even I wonder about her."
In her predictable daily life Kristina is good at keeping Bree
hidden. Then she gets the chance to visit her biological father whom
she hasn't seen in eight years. Daddy dearest works nights in a
bowling alley under the table so he can also collect disability. The
bowling alley is also where he often gets stoned with the clients.
"In school I was never confronted
with drugs, surely never sought
them out. But I wasn't exactly
clueless. As I watched, one
thing became obvious. Where
the party went, my dad followed."
For the first time in Kristina's young life parental supervision
is nonexistent. The apartment dad resides in is in a neighborhood
where wearing the wrong color can get one killed. Kristina does not
have the attitude or skills to navigate this environment. Bree,
however, does and becomes more and more dominant, especially when she
encounters the very good looking young man who introduces her to
cigarettes, pot, and eventually crank. (In one touching scene dad
catches them getting high and joins the party.)
After three weeks Katrina/Bree returns home, bringing back a
drug addiction that is not going to play well in suburbia.
Crank is an excellent novel for high school students, especially
those mislabelled reluctant readers who want content with the richness
of experience and nuance often missing in remedial lit and a cover
they don't need to hide from peers. It is an insightful read for
parents, teachers, and guidance--anyone who works with teens. In fact
when a mom or dad can avoid the temptation to label Kristina/Bree as
just a cautionary tale, it can be a great book for parent and teen to
read and discuss.
On a personal note, a few days ago I looked for more books in my
library by Ellen Hopkins and found zero. I struck gold, however, on
the inter library loan computer and ordered about half the volumes I
found. It's not just that I love to read her books. Hopkins is a
master of the genre I am trying to create in, the novel told in
verse. She can give the perfect details to make a story come alive
within the sparse format. Her characters and their situations seem to
jump off the pages. She is even able to do all this within a variety
of poem structures. Reading and pondering on her work is like taking
a grad class in creative writing. Hopkins' level of writing is far
above mine currently, but not so out of my league that she deters
rather than inspiring. This, for a writer, is an ideal situation.
A great big shout out goes out to my older daughter, Amber, who is
very dilligently working on her novel this summer. I am really eager
to see the fruits of her labor.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod