Sunday, September 30, 2012

Banned Books Week: Crank, by Ellen Hopkins

Unlike last year, I'm taking Banned Books Week seriously here and reviewing a book that has been banned and challenged.  I recently listened to the audiobook version of Crank by Ellen Hopkins, and realized that it was perfect for this feature.  It has been challenged for drugs, offensive language, and being sexually explicit.  This has happened all over the country, often with the worst result possible: it's been banned.  It was #4 on the American Library Association's most frequently challenged book list for 2010.  The author, who has had many of her books challenged or banned, has even been repeatedly dis-invited from speaking events.

That's particularly sad because Crank is semi-biographical, about Ms. Hopkins' own daughter's descent into drug use.

So let's take a look at this book.

Checkouts: not owned by the charter school; 6 checkouts of the paperback at the school/public; no statistics available for audiobook (interlibrary loan)
Typical reader: curious teens, and drug users
Source: Interlibrary loan

Synopsis: Kristina Snow was the perfect daughter and student.  Then she went to visit her father one summer, where she tried crank - the monster, methamphetamine.  At first, it was great.  But then it led her into a special sort of hell.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

I went with the audiobook for this one because it's written in free verse.  Between my dislike for that form of poetry, and the fact that I just can't read poetry (blaming high school English for that), it seemed like a good choice.  And it is, just for time's sake - the audiobook is 4 discs long, whereas the paperback is a whopping 537 pages.  But it's also good for the quality of narration.  Laura Flanagan delivers the story well, with feeling and a teen-sounding voice.  She handles the verse format better than I ever could, making it more lyrical and less cumbersome.

Crank is a rough book, any which way you read it.  It deals with some very hard subjects.  Kristina gets into a lot of trouble due to her drug use.  This includes trouble at home with her family, with her finances, at school, with her friends, and with boys.  Some of that is very serious.

This book has been banned and challenged for drugs, offensive language, and being sexually explicit.  Well, yes, it does have all of that.  Sometimes people challenge books for the oddest perceived faults; this time, they're right.  The book is about drug use.  Is it glamorized?  Hardly.  There's offensive language, but that seems superfluous.  As for being sexually explicit, let me give you some spoilers.  Kristina gets raped, and that is described a bit.  It's worth cringing over.  She talks with a fellow female drug user about it, and finds out that it's happened to the friend as well.  Girls that use drugs often get raped by dealers, or by guys that offer to help them get high.  And as a final lesson in what bad things can happen when a girl uses drugs, she discovers that she's pregnant, and it's the rapist's baby.

Is this appropriate for young children?  No, but I doubt anyone found it in an elementary collection.  Is it appropriate for teens?  That's a good question.  It's written for teens, about a teen, based on a real teen girl.  But parents should certainly be aware that their teen is reading it.  This is a novel that needs discussion.  Don't take it away, just because of a fear that it might make them curious or lead them astray.  The consequences of Kristina's drug-addled actions become clear enough by the end of the book.  Discuss it with them.  Talk about how drugs can mess up their lives.

I really have to give kudos to Ms. Hopkins for writing this book and its direct sequel, Glass.  She was struggling with how and why her daughter could go down the path of meth use, and this book explores what happened, or may have happened.  She's been praised by people who have used meth, for accurately portraying what it's like.  Some have even told her how the books have helped them clean up.

If that's not a reason to keep the book on the shelf, what is?

Have a good Banned Book Week, everyone.  Enjoy your freedom to read.  Do you have a favorite challenged book, or one that you're reading in honor of this week?

On to a lighter subject.  Tomorrow is the first day of October.  October shall be a special month here, where a librarian moonlights as a librarian.   I'm going to take the month to focus on books of Marvelous Michigan!  I'll be exploring new and old books for all ages, that are by Michigan authors, or are set in Michigan, or are about this state of pleasant peninsulas.  I might even have an author interview or two.  Stay tuned - I hope you'll love it.


  1. I've never read this book, mostly due to the free verse style which isn't a favorite. I may try the audio version since I've been intrigued by the premise for years. I love your review and agree with your statements regarding its importance and the need for discussing complex books, not banning them. Probably my favorite banned/challenged book is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian though Harry Potter is definitely up there as well.

    1. Thank you! I really need to read that Sherman Alexie work sometime. :)

  2. I keep meaning to read Hopkins books. I don't know if they're my style but I want to support her.

    BTW...I never got around to thanking you for warning me about Barcelona. I'm sorry you had such a horrible experience there. I'd heard from numerous sources, including you, that it could be a dangerous city so I was always on alert and didn't hang out on La Rambla too often. I was lucky and got to have a great experience.

    1. Thanks for stopping by; no need to thank me for the warning. No one should have to go through all that.

  3. Hi, I am a high school student doing a project on the book Crank, and I am using this blog as a source. My English teacher said I needed to have you name in the citation. could you email me at Thanks!

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