When Go Ask Alice was first published in 1971, it was a sensation – lifting the curtain on the ugly truth about the drug-and-sex-saturated culture of teenagers in the late 60s. Ellen Hopkins’ first YA novel, Crank, has become a best-selling sensation and the quintessential cautionary tale about the slippery slope of drug use for the millennial teenager. It is the Go Ask Alice for today’s generation.
The novel begins with Kristina, a high school junior who is a good student and a quiet, well -behaved daughter, embarking on a court-ordered visit to her father, who is a dead-beat drug user living in New Mexico. On her first night in Albuquerque, Kristina meets Buddy, an attractive and flirtatious neighbor of her father’s. As her friendship (and romance) with Buddy grows stronger, Kristina’s resentment and confusion over her father’s indifference towards her escalates. Ultimately, when Buddy offers her a hit of crystal meth, she accepts and begins her descent into the world of the “monster” – crystal meth addiction. The reader is dragged along through Kristina’s rapid downward spiral as family, friends, and school start to matter less and getting high becomes the obsessive focus of Kristina’s life.
Crank is a continuous narrative told entirely in the form of poetry. Hopkins is truly an artist in not only her use of language but also in the innovative forms and structures of her poems. Many of the poems have multiple meanings depending on how they are read – left to right, vertically from top to bottom, etc and are unique in that, as fiction, they are deeply rooted in the voice of her character.
The reader gets to know Kristina intimately – from her frustrations to her impressions of the world around her to her patterns of thinking. We get acquainted with Kristina before her descent into drug addiction, which makes her disintegration all the more disturbing. Even the structure of Hopkins’ poetry relates to the content, so that in poems about particularly chaotic events and emotions, the words are scattered across the page, making the reading experience chaotic and drawing the reader into Kristina’s emotional turmoil. This is what makes Hopkins’ work so special – her writing feels intensely personal and intimate; the reader knows the character and goes on this tragic journey along with her.
Hopkin’s ability to convey the fear and chaos of drug addiction is closely related to the fact that Kristina’s story is based on Hopkins’ own daughter’s battle with crystal meth addiction. The experiences and events in the novel mirror those of her own family, which gives Crank the frighteningly raw and real feeling that Alice’s “real, anonymous” diary did in the 70s.
Contemporary teens (and adults) will read Crank and feel that they are there too – in the bathroom at the run-down bowling alley taking hits of a drug that is as evil as it is seductive. This haunting account of how drug addiction can destroy the life of a smart, hardworking teenager with a bright future is a masterpiece of poetry, prose, and storytelling.