Two weeks ago I blogged about the impact that Karen Hesse’s book Out of the Dust had on the writing of my own debut book, Crazy. It was significant and if you are interested you can refer back to that blog here. At the same time, but in a totally different way, Ellen Hopkins‘ work, particularly Crank, has proven very influential for me.
The two books couldn’t be more opposite in content and style. Crank is loosely based on the true story of Hopkins’ daughter’s addiction to crank, a form of methamphetamine. It is written in the voice of her daughter. On her website Hopkins says, “Crank began as a personal exploration of the ‘why’s’ behind my daughter’s decisions, and what part I might have played in them. By writing the story from ‘my daughter’s’ perspective, I learned a lot, both about her, and about myself. But I also learned a lot about the nature of addiction, and the physiology of this particular substance.”
Sixteen-year-old Kristina was a good girl who had decent friends, stayed out of trouble, and made great grades. Then one fateful summer her mother sent her to stay with her father who had not been a part of her life for a long time. Into drugs himself, he turned out not to be the prince Kristina had imagined, but instead, distant and uninterested in getting to know who she was.
And who Kristina was began transforming almost immediately upon arrival at her father’s house, when she decided to invent Bree, her alter ego. Bree, free-wheeling and devil-may-care, made bad decisions, including taking up with Adam, her first boyfriend. He introduced her to crank, “the monster.” It didn’t take long for her to begin risking her health, her future, and her sanity, falling into the endless cycle of finding enough money to pay for the next fix. Hopkins masterfully shows how easily Kristina slid into addiction, and what a powerful grip it had on her body, mind, and soul. Making the decision not to abort when she became pregnant was easier than staying off of crank during the pregnancy. And on the last page, we see her yield to the call of the monster while her mother cares for her baby. Hopkins reveals on her website that she and her husband have adopted the child.
I am a fan of Ellen Hopkins for more than one reason. First, she is not afraid of addressing disturbing, present-day issues such as drugs, domestic abuse, suicide and prostitution with stark clarity and bold realism. Crank, according to a recent ALA survey, has been listed in recent years as one of the most challenged books. But Hopkins enjoys connecting with her teen readers and seems committed to using her books as a means of education, prevention, and intervention. I can relate to the fact that Hopkins wrote Crank in free verse form as a cathartic way of working through the grief and anger she felt over her daughter’s addiction. She apparently never dreamed it would become a published book.
And of course I love the unique style of narrative free verse she has developed. The sparse, uncluttered format of her poems allows the full impact of the emotional content to reach the reader without having to plow through unnecessary verbosity. Many of her poems have a signature layout wherein words set apart on the right margin form a second poem when read down the page, while remaining an integral part of the main poem. Her poems move seamlessly from page to page with a satisfying variety of stanza spacing, word spacing, word placement and rhythm. And a good many of her pieces are shape poems, where the lines form a particular pattern or shape that reflects the subject of the poem.
I aspire to be an effective storyteller using the tool of narrative free verse. I believe that free verse form can be easy to follow and useful for struggling or reluctant readers. And I believe it can be used to tell an emotional story with simple intensity and stark imagery. I am extremely thankful for authors like Ellen Hopkins who have paved the way in tackling disturbing contemporary topics with bold dignity, using narrative free verse in such an innovative and eloquent style.
Again, I don’t claim to be anywhere near the superb poet that Ellen Hopkins is, but I truly can claim to have learned tons from reading and studying her creative and informative work. It might be too edgy and too raw for some readers, and it certainly needs to be saved for mature teenagers. But I respect how she has written from the heart about issues that she feels strongly about, and that her ultimate goal is to reach out and touch those facing such issues. These seem like stellar goals to me, and ones that I share for my debut book, Crazy.
I would so LOVE to hear from you, silent readers!! I love that you drop in, but I love it even more when you share your wisdom. Hopkins can be controversial. LET’S TALK!!
Hey READERS, I would love to hear from you.
Is your MIND FULL of old thoughts or new?