Sunday, February 6, 2011

Crank by Ellen Hopkins--Wordle

Bibliography: Hopkins, E. (2004). Crank. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Summary: Kristina is the perfect daughter: gifted high school junior, quiet, never any trouble. Then she meets the monster: crank. And what begins as a wild ride turns into a struggle for her mind, her soul--her life (Margaret K. McElderry Books).

Tool: Wordle

Wordle creates randomized "word art" using a system based on the number of times a word is entered. For example, in the poem "Alone" below, "alone" and "quite" are both used four times, while all other words are only used once or twice, resulting in the following image. This system makes Wordle an effective tool to examine theme: just copy and paste in a poem, a presidential speech, a news article, etc., and the text is broken down to a visually telling image revealing the main ideas. Because Wordle is randomized, however, users do not have very much control over the resulting image other than font and color scheme, so if it generates an image that you like, you should stick with it.

Here is the original poem from Crank used to create the above Wordle:

The verse novel genre has always seemed a bit ostentatious—write a series of poems about a series of events that happen to a series of characters, and call it a novel? We didn’t call Rita Dove’s 1987 Pulitzer Prize-award winning Thomas and Beulah a novel; we called it poetry. Hesitantly flipping through Ellen Hopkins’s Crank, at first I saw only poetry, and angst-ridden poetry at that.

Crank, however, goes deeper than your “I am alone in a crowded room” teen fare. While many of its poems can stand alone (see “Alone” above; pun not intended), Hopkins brings them together to create a cohesive and, surprisingly, plot-driven and even suspenseful whole.

Although Kristina’s eventual pregnancy feels like a hasty add-on, because her story is loosely based on Hopkins’s daughter’s addiction (she is currently raising her daughter’s child), it is understandable that she would include it. Also, because this is a novel about drug addiction and not teen pregnancy, Hopkins spends most of the book chronicling Kristina’s/Bree’s descent into madness and desperation. Pregnancy is just an afterthought for the narrator; so, too, should it be for the reader.

Foremost in her/their mind(s) are smoking crank, sexing boys, and somewhere, sometimes, saving Kristina. Both Kristina and Bree, her alter ego, have beautiful, distinct voices, and because the poetic medium allows for a more poignant expression, limiting distracting explicatory passages, the reader is really able to feel the speaker’s blissful highs and staggering lows. Whether or not they are suffering from addiction, teenagers will relate well to Hopkins’s poetry and Kristina’s emotional rollercoaster, and I recommend having both sequels, Glass and Fallout, on hand.

The audiobook, read by Laura Flanagan, is also highly recommended. Grades 8+.

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