Poetry on Crank

In my first year teaching high school English in a reputable district, I eagerly applied to be the sponsor of the Creative Writing Club. Students, mostly 10th and 11th grade girls, had expressed interest in a club that allowed them to share their writing, so I volunteered to facilitate this forum in my classroom once a week. What I found to be most interesting was that when it came time to write and share their work, it was all poetry.

The main topic that was shared was about breaking up with their boyfriends and girlfriends, with themes that revealed jealousy, revenge, loyalty, love, and, for the most part, being a teenager in love. Occasionally, there would be one on nature or some event, but usually those were “inspired” by the writer’s muse, who happened to either do something special for them or something awful (you guessed it–a break up). But the other topic that was covered frequently was drugs, and, again, either the drugs were the “muse” or the poem attempted to describe the effect the drugs had on them.

Let me take a moment here to clarify that this experience does not exemplify my overall experience as a high school teacher. The overwhelming majority of my students didn’t concern themselves with drugs, nor did it take up so much of their thoughts that they felt it necessary to write about it. The students in this creative writing class were a unique bunch, and their ability to discuss these issues came with limitations, which were strictly adhered to.

With that said, let me continue…

I am reminded of this club (which was about 8 years ago and only lasted for one semester for the reasons aforementioned) because the novel Crank tackles the topics of drugs and teenage relationships in poetry form. And it does it very well, I might add. The economy of the language is what impresses me the most. Hopkins is able to create the characters and develop the plot with a brevity that would usually have the reader asking for more. (However, I made a similar point about Crutcher and got slammed for it.)

And while the poetry form is even fun at times (the topography creates images that represent what the text is saying), it always comes back to the content when discussing its usefulness in classrooms. I remember this book being a hot topic in my own home state of Texas, and nationally it has attracted even more attention. But again, it seems to me that this book is speaking to an intended audience, so to what extent, if any, do we allow this novel into secondary English classrooms? Moreover, to what extent, if any, does this novel help with the teaching of poetry?

Feel free to discuss the questions at the end, or to simply talk about what you did or didn’t like about either of this week’s novels. As long as your comments show thoughtfulness, anything goes.

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21 thoughts on “Poetry on Crank

  1. When I first started reading Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, I was under the impression that it was just a series of random poems, but when I discovered that they were all connected and sequentially told a story, I was pleased. I’ll be honest, I have never read a novel that told a story in the form of poetry. Before reading both of these novels, the thought of reading a whole novel written in poetry form would not appeal to me. I wouldn’t even attempt it. With that being said, it wasn’t that bad. Actually, it wasn’t bad at all. I enjoyed reading both of them, especially Crank by Ellen Hopkins. More importantly, I think this format makes poetry less abstract and easier to comprehend.

    When I first started reading Crank, It took me a few pages to acclimate to the structure, but once I did, I realized that Hopkins used structure to set pace and mood though out the novel. At times, the structure creates explicit visual representations, for example, on page 191, when Kristina returns home, the words are arranged in the shape of a house. Although, other structures were not as obvious and require closer consideration. I agree that, “Hopkins is able to create the characters and develop the plot with a brevity that would usually have the reader asking for more.” She does a great job of creating a mental image with few words. The content is tough. I would fear more backlash with this novel than with Sherman Alexie’s. I’m still grappling with how I feel about this novel being in a secondary classroom. I’m curious what others think…

    Overall, I enjoyed reading both novels. I like the contrast between the two teen girls–one aspiring to reach a goal and the other spiraling out of control–but at the same time, neither novel glamorizes the lives of teenagers.

  2. I find poetry novels to be much more accessible than I originally thought. The often staccato sentences and short passages provide for a quick read, despite the heavy content. This makes the material that is typically not easy to read seem more readable. The short, heavy passage is easier to process as a reader than a lengthy passage discussing the same topics and events. Wolff and Hopkins both give readers insight into specific ways of life, ways of life that are challenging and difficult. I’m not sure if it was the fast pace the style and format provided, but the insight into the lives portrayed in the novel was moving. I can see how students would want to use these texts to talk through issues, personal or not. This also provides an opportunity to discuss different lives people lead, always a worthwhile moment for a classroom to have.

  3. Ellen Hopkins interesting piece titled Crank is a prime example of an adolescence that does everything in her power to merely fit in. Looking back on my High School experience there was always the group of people that wanted to fit in and they would do anything to do so. Kristina, a good girl, goes to visit her absent father and everything gets flipped upside down. From the beginning of Hopkins’ work it is evident that Kristina would get into trouble. Her other personality, Bree, is the definition of a good girl gone bad. Bree merely wants to fit in with her surroundings and will do anything to do so. She knows right from wrong, but has made up her mind that while visiting her father, she will assimilate to his way of life. This can be seen with young adolescence today. Teens are constantly looking for acceptance and will do anything to achieve it. They may not make the right decisions, but in their mind being accepted is way more important.

    This text is extremely relatable for students in high school. This book may not be appropriate for all individuals in high school, but it definitely would enhance classroom discussion. Also, the poetic format is different than what most high school English classrooms are teaching. Poetry was always so dull for me in high school, but I definitely enjoyed Hopkins’ piece. The poetry maintained an easy level of comprehension throughout, which allowed me to not only enjoy the writing, but make connections easily. After, reading the pieces for class this week, I have come to the realization that poetry is not all that bad after all and if implemented correctly in the classroom, it can be rather enjoyable.

  4. Let me start off by saying that as a high school student, I thought reading poetry was the greatest form of torture. My teachers assigned the Shakespearian classics every year, from* Macbeth* to *Hamlet* to *Romeo and Juliet*. However, in tenth grade my teacher required her students to read a book of their choosing from every genre instead of reading the classics. Of course, when it was time to read poetry, my heart sank. Luckily, the school librarian recommended *Crank* to read and I fell in love. I can honestly say that I never enjoyed poetry before reading *Crank* and never sought out poetry books until after I read it. I have read every novel published by Ellen Hopkins and enjoyed every one of them. I reread *Crank* for our class and found it just as captivating as the first time I read it. The novel is comparable to a graphic novel in the way the poetry is topographically written to convey a message about the meaning of the poem. Bree/Kristina is a compelling character who you can’t help but like even though she has a dark side. She remains relatable throughout the novel as her addiction grabs a stronger hold on her.

    I can see why a novel like *Crank* would be censored and would definitely need parental permission from a student to check out (although I did not need permission when I checked it out of my school library). The entire novel is centered on the protagonist’s addiction- similar to how the protagonist’s life becomes centered on her addiction by the end. Although the novel is about meth and some other drugs, I don’t think any person who reads it would want to try drugs by the end. Bree/Kristina’s addiction is terrifying both in the extent and easiness that it consumes over her life. If anything, this novel should be read to promote students to not try drugs even once.

    *Make Lemonade* could also be censored by parents, but for a different reason. In this novel, the content appears more adult than *Crank*. Although I enjoyed the novel and found it to be a quick read, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it if I was an adolescent. LaVaughn is mature beyond her years and consistently does the right thing, making her appear much older than fourteen. Therefore, I question how relatable she would be to adolescents.

  5. I really enjoyed both *Crank* by Ellen Hopkins and *Make Lemonade* by Virginia Euwer Wolff. They were both wonderful, character-driven stories that certainly make you think. I also really enjoyed the fact that they were in poetry format, telling a story in an exciting way that makes poetry non-threatening and accessible for young adults. *Crank*’s content is also very appealing to young adults, and Hopkins captures the teenage voice and experience flawlessly. While *Make Lemonade* was a little less poetic, I think it was an important story for teens to read as I feel it is very demonstrative of learning and acquiring empathy and seeing how people less fortunate live and persevere through life’s obstacles; that is definitely an important and necessary lesson to be had.
    I believe *Make Lemonade* would not be targeted or challenged as much as *Crank* would in a secondary classroom, although it also deals with adult themes. *Crank* is a book that I do not think will ever be taught in a classroom, save for the (unlikely) possibility of it being used in a novel group or individualized reading program. Which is too bad because, as I mentioned before, I think the book is a great way to get students to delve into poetry without fear; and just a great way to get them and keep them reading since it deals with so many provocative themes. Yes, the content is very mature. But honestly, the themes in *Crank* are themes that every kid (ok, maybe not every) is going through, or at the very least they know about them, heard about them, been exposed to them in some type of way. This book is meant to be a cautionary tale, not a glamorization of drug use and teen sex. However, not everyone will see it that way, so the chances of this book being in a classroom are slim. I, however, very much enjoyed reading these books and would love to read more like it, written in this style. Perhaps I will start with *Glass*, the next book in the *Crank* trilogy. 🙂

  6. As I read “Crank” by Ellen Hopkins, I thought about how this novel could be challenged. The novel can be challenged because of the language and harsh themes. I thought about my own experiences and how I knew very little about drug terminology as a teenager. As a teenager growing up in a rural area, I believe this novel would present themes that many teens were not yet familiar with. I think this novel can teach lessons to young adults, but the main points need to be brought out by the teacher. As Dr. McConn has expressed, I believe this book could be part of a novel group, but not a reading for the entire class. Young adults need to be continuously reminded about the dangers of drugs and how using them just once can impact the rest of their lives.Kristina was a successful student, but was overcome by drug usage. Kristina did not have intentions of becoming a drug addict when she first tried crank with Adam, but this is an example of how drugs can affect a person. I enjoyed the short passages and felt it easier to pull out the main themes in this type of novel.

  7. I really enjoyed both Crank and Make Lemonade. I have read one novel that was in a similar style but I definitely have not had very much experience with the genre. I feel that both of these would be excellent to have in a high school but, of course, it would have to be with parental consent. I can see why parents would find the material to be mature and even though they do not condone immoral behavior they certainly portray it.

    It can often be a challenge to get students interested in poetry and I think Crank would be an excellent way to intrigue students. Although I am not sure which one I enjoyed more, I imagine that students would prefer Crank. I feel students would relate more to Kristina more than they would LaVaughn. Kristina could easily be one of their peers and I am sure many of them have had similar experiences. Crank discusses difficult topics in a beautiful and unique way.

    It is interesting that you point out that Crank does not need to fully develop characters or plots in order for the reader to become involved. I think this is very true and I think Hopkins does a much better job of this than Crutcher. It seems much more purposeful and deliberate in Crank.

    • I didn’t mean to say that the characters were underdeveloped; instead, I would argue that she develops them well with fewer words. Also, I do think that the novels appeal to two different audiences. What makes you think that more students would go with Crank?

  8. I love that Crank, by Ellen Hopkins, is written in a poetic form. It shows the beauty of poetry. Poetry does not have to rhyme, have reason, or make sense. Poetry allows an individual to express themselves any way they choose. It allows emotions to escape by writing whatever comes to mind, in the way it wants to present itself. Poetry does not have to include complete sentences. It does not have to be written in particular form, such as haiku or a sonnet. Poetry is freedom.

    When writing for the first time, I find poetry to be the easiest because there are only suggestions, no rules. The author gets to explore themselves while turning their emotions into writing. Poetry does not have a length. It can be as short as one word, or as long as an epic. Poetry is freedom. Poetry embodies the author, and is different for each individual writing it and reading it.

    Crank is written in poetic form, which makes it interesting to read. It provides little tidbits of information under different headings. I love that Hopkins writes poetry as not only Kristina, but her alter ego Bree. Hopkins’s poetry is also in different shapes depending on the mood and subject written about. While the shapes are often distracting to me as a reader, it does not matter because it is Ellen Hopkins’s poetry. She can do what she pleases because poetry affords her the option to. Every writer has the freedom to express themselves in any way they choose through poetry, making poetry not only delightful but beneficial to every writer. Poetry is my chosen way of writing because I can be as specific, or vague, as I want, and I produce only what I want, not what one expects from me.

  9. Ellen Hopkins,’ Crank was a provocative read. It was eye opening on a couple different levels. I think I learned a lot about the abuse of drugs, the mindset that’s connected to the abuse, and the fallout of addiction. It also gave me a different perspective on poetry.

    I was introduced to a novel written in free verse and concrete poetry. This was brand new to me. In fact, I didn’t even know books like this existed. I’ve read compilations of poetry before, but nothing to this extent. I found it jarring at first, wanting to read the story in fluid punctuated paragraphs, but once I relaxed into the form, I started to see its purpose. The lines usually mimicked Kristina or Bree’s mood or given situation. It would read in quicker, staccato lines when Kristina/Bree was in trouble or anxious. This really added a new way to understand the reading, much the way the graphic novels do with illustrations.

    Based on my experience with this book, I can only imagine students would find this form of poetry refreshing. Those who aren’t poetry-lovers may be surprised to learn that poetry doesn’t have to be difficult to understand or boring. It can be exciting and entertaining, while remaining emotive and moving.

    • I like how you pointed out the “staccato lines” that reflected her mood. There were a lot of times where I knew the textual structure was important, but couldn’t quite figure out how, and the pacing isn’t something I had thought of. So thanks!

  10. Make Lemonade Blog:

    I really enjoyed “Make Lemonade” by Virginia Euwer Wolff, let me start off with this novel is in its raw form when it comes to teenage pregnancy and only gets more interesting when drugs are thrown into the mix. I’m sure many would say this book needs to be censored however I feel unfortunately this is becoming a harsh reality more so in our urban communities. Today’s teens are coddled to a point where it’s unhealthy and they need to know that this can happen and does happen. I like the depiction of the young girl named Lavaughn living in the projects doing everything she can not to live a life of poverty such as working hard in school to make the grade, finding a part time job, and plans on going to college. This book also illustrates to young readers that no matter how bad our circumstances may be, we all have a choice to do better. I like how College is an important aspect of the story and shows us two girls in two entirely different situations one worse than the other while trying to survive in their everyday lives. This story depicts diligence, perseverance and triumph. I personally am a big fan of these types of inspiring novels. I guess the title seems fitting, when life gives us lemons make lemonade! I would love to have this in my classroom and I would definitely recommend this novel for grades 9-12.

    Crank Blog:
    I enjoyed the the book “Crank” by Ellen Hopkins. Hopkins has a unique way of introducing poetry to young adult readers. She teaches young adult readers that poetry doesn’t have to be painfully boring and nor does it have to rhyme. I personally helped two teens with this book during my placement for student teaching. They were intimidated by its density. I talked with both girls and they decided to give it a try. They both ended up loving this book. I think Hopkins wrote this beautifully it easily keeps the readers interest. This book is relatable to young adult readers because it is rich in content in all aspects of a teenager’s life. Even though this book is primarily about the horrific use and addiction to drugs it also talks about divorce, teenage love, sex, and pregnancy. These are the many issues that teens are faced with in today’s society. This book is based on her daughter’s battle with addiction to crank, my questions why is this book censored when this is clearly a “life mimics art” novel? What argument could one person have? Where is the argument in that? My only thought is that I would not recommend this book for y/a readers in grades 7-8. However this book would be great for grades 9-12.

  11. Crank by Ellen Hopkins is a work that pushes the boundaries of acceptable classroom material. I believe that Crank is a book that would be acceptable to have on a shelf for 11th or 12 graders to read during individual reading programs, it may also be one that should require parental consent. Crank contains a lot of difficult issues that some teenagers may face. The portrayal of how drugs can lead to dependency, dishonesty, and poor academics may be a crucial journey for a student to take through literature before they are faced with these pressures in real life.

    As far as teaching poetry through Crank, I believe that it would allow more students to maintain an open mind. As someone who dislikes studying poetry, this book presents poetry in a manner that would lend itself to discussions about the many forms that poetry can take. It also portrays poetry in a less confusing manner, as it presents a narrative through language that is easily understood. This novel is not one that should be taught whole-class but it has the potential to spark interest in poetry and potentially lead to a discussion about an unfamiliar form of writing.

  12. Make Lemonade was a book that I have a lot respect for without having a great deal of interest in. I think that the introduction of this book would be really beneficial for teenagers (and adults too, honestly) from every cultural and socio-economic background. More affluent readers would gain tremendously valuable perspective. In the past, I have often looked at people like Jolly, young mothers, or people in otherwise difficult situations, from a high horse. Why did they decide to have a kid so young? Why don’t they just get a job and leave that rough neighborhood? I think I would’ve stopped asking myself such judgmental and reductive questions at a much younger age if I had read this book, or another one like it. On the other side of the coin, those who can relate to any of the characters in this book may find a bit of hope for improving their own situation. In continuing to remain by Jolly’s side, even after she stops getting paid, LaVaugh displays genuine altruism, something I’m still not sure I really believe in. Even as the novel Anybody that has had a rough life in any way needs to see that these sorts of people exist.

    Oh man, I have oodles of thoughts about Crank. First, let me say that reading 90% of that book in a single afternoon was a bad idea. I closed the book and just felt upset. Not in the tear-jerking, ice-cream eating way as TFIOS (Hey, it’s funny that I decided to describe it that way, because I was literally eating a mint ice cream sandwich while watching the movie the other night).
    With Crank, I think I felt more helpless than anything else, especially because as the author was writing about her experiences, her narrative voice was aware that she was describing mistakes. She did put herself back into the mindset that thought she was doing the right thing, but I kind of just felt like I was watching a horror movie and I wanted to shout “Don’t go in there!” I never knew exactly what she would find if she did “go in there,” but I always knew that it was going to be bad.
    I was really interested in the topography of the text. I actually didn’t know that was the word for it until I read the original blog post prompt, but I definitely noticed it as I was reading. I loved that there were times where each half of the page could stand alone or together. That was always so impressive. There were some points where I couldn’t quite tell why the words were arranged as they were, but like I said, I did read almost the entire book in a single day. I’m sure I’ll read it again at some point, hopefully after a little more exposure to poetry in general, and when I do, I’ll be sure to take a closer look at the structure of the text.
    I have a lot to say in response to the censorship articles too, but I think I’m going to cut myself off here. Suffice it to say that widespread censorship and banning is crazy to me, and those articles just made me think of the Book Burning the Liesel describes in The Book Thief. Which might be a bit extreme.

  13. I really enjoyed this book in an “it was so good it made me uncomfortable” sort of way. I think Crank was exceptionally written, and much like Alexie’s work, was definitely a page turner; I was always wondering what would happen next so I never put it down. While I know it was set up as poems and styled as such I never read it like one. Upon first glance I assumed it was poetry like but when I got into reading it I read as if it were any other novel. I think that perhaps pulling excerpts from Crank would be beneficial to students so that they can see another interesting, less bland, form of poetry than what they probably are accustomed to, which hopefully opens up new doors for me as a teacher to get them more into poetry as a whole.

    I think as a full novel though I wouldn’t even keep this on my shelf, if a student found it on his or her own and read it as an independent book I wouldn’t say no, but I think the whole plot made me too uncomfortable to share with students. If I now think this makes me feel uncomfortable reading I can only imagine what students at 14-18 would feel; but then again who knows maybe they would think it was cool. I think it was just the doing drugs with her father, becoming very “friendly” with boys we will just say, and getting pregnant did me in. I think that the idea of a young girl struggling with dual personalities was an impeccable story and whether kids know it or not perhaps that is some part of the novel they can relate to, maybe they are one way with friends but different with their families.

  14. I enjoy poetry quite a bit, but before I began reading Crank, I was wondering how such a thick book was going to have decent poetry that actually tells a story. Although at first I was not a huge fan, Hopkins quickly won me over when Kristina/Bree began discussing “the monster” and her split personalities. She wrote beautifully, I assume truthfully, and was able to fit all these different scenes into a small amount of words.

    Although I am typically a sensitive reader, I did not have an issue reading this book, probably because of how fascinated I was by the topic (maybe the 16 year old in me is going through the whole “appeal of the exotic” thing). I have never even smoked a cigarette, but I have known plenty of people who have done quite a bit of drugs, and although I have absolutely no desire to try them, I have always wanted to ask what goes on in the mind when they do them. This book did an amazing job, at least in my opinion, of explaining the emotions that Kristina/Bree felt at different points in her day (getting high, craving a high, crashing from a high, etc.), and helped me understand addiction, and how people fall into the trap of drugs.

    I really like how Hopkins was able to write in a way to where I could literally see Kristina transitioning into Bree, and Bree fighting to get back to Kristina. I think that part of me could resonate with this idea of being two different people when it comes to my anxiety–I am usually rational, level-headed Lauren, but a trigger can send me into panic-ridden, irrational Lauren at the drop of a hat. I am not trying to say that being on drugs and having your life spiral out of control is similar to panic attacks and anxiety, but I do think that anxiety is a type of addiction, and one that changes you in the moment of panic.

    If I were to teach this novel, or allow it as independent reading/novel groups, I would ideally want to make sure my readers were mature enough to handle the material, and not at an incredibly impressionable stage (being 14 is typically a lot different than 17). Although this book shows how drugs can completely tear life apart and cause one to make horrific choices they never would have made before, this book is honest about how drugs can feel at first to those who enjoy them. I think it is important to tread lightly here–it is a long, intimidating book before it is opened, and for students who may be thinking of experimenting, they may read some of the good poems about the feelings drugs give Bree, and then not pay attention to the story and the moral there, or stop reading. I’m not saying that this book will cause students to do drugs, but the subject material is fascinating and well-described, and could cause curiosity.

    I think it would be a good idea to pull certain poems from this book to teach to the whole class, and spark a discussion that way.

  15. I found both of these novels well written and captivating. However, I am biased to poetry, and could understand someone who didn’t enjoy reading these novels.
    Make Lemonade hit home with me as I babysat many a kid growing up. I found this young girls account believable, honest and funny.
    Crank was, in one word, compelling. I couldn’t put it down and read it in one afternoon. It moved me on a deep level. Hopkins portrayed this young girls experience in a way that anyone could understand.
    And that’s what both of these accounts have in common. Although they are unique narratives, they are somehow universally relatable. Maybe that’s because they’re written in poetry.
    In a classroom, I would like to use these narratives as examples and have kids write their own narrative poetry.

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