Study Guide

Crank Analysis

By Ellen Hopkins

  • Tone

    Dark, Regretful

    There's no getting around the fact that Crank isn't exactly a happy story. Where Kristina starts out with talent and promise as a student, she trades her entire identity in for a dance with the monster. Appropriately, the book's descriptions and word choice mirror this, particularly when Kristina reflects on what's been lost in chasing after crank.

    The book's dark tone is pretty much summed up in "Problem Number Four: Feeling Good," where Kristina presents an exhaustive list of things that typically bring joy to normal people, including nature, riding in fast cars, and personal successes in school and music. She then reveals the core of her problem with drugs: "Somewhere on my stroll with the monster, I'd lost these things" (6-7). She knows little to no joy, and since she's our narrator, the tone follows suit.

    Crank sucks the happiness out of her life, leaving her mood dependent on how much of the drug is in her system. The tone of this statement reflects this fact: "After awhile," she says, "even high, I could almost make believe food didn't taste like cardboard, almost float down into REM sleep, almost function the next day, almost look forward to my 17th birthday" (Feeling Good.6-9). It becomes clear that Kristina's aware of what she's sacrificed to get high—and that the decision to do so definitely wasn't worth it. All those almosts are just depressing.

  • Genre

    Coming-of-Age; Young Adult Literature

    If coming-of-age stories tend to focus on the transition from the teenage years to adulthood, Kristina's tale is sort of this genre on steroids. After all, you don't get much closer to merging into adulthood than making a bunch of bad decisions before becoming a mom at age seventeen.

    Actually, maybe "merging" is a poor choice of words. Try being slammed into it face-first. And while it's definitely not a happy story, there's something moving about the redemptive decision Kristina makes to keep her baby rather than have an abortion. While she says at the end of the book that she's "not really sure how this story ends" (Happy Endings.1), it's obvious that she's learned a lot about herself and how deeply choices can impact your life. For more about whether Kristina's really learned her lesson or not, check out the "What's Up with the Ending" section.

    As for the young adult lit genre, a teenage girl sits at center stage of this story, narrating her own experiences in her own words. While she has an exceptional experience in some ways, in others she's navigating classic teen stuff like the desire to rebel, trying figure out who she is, confusion about dating and romance, and all that good (okay, it's often terrible) stuff. Everything about this book is designed to appeal to YA readers, from its main character to its subject matter to its creative poetic writing style.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    "Crank is more than a drug," Kristina tells us in the final stanzas of her story. "It's a way of life. You can turn your back. But you can never really walk away" (Happy Endings.5). It's appropriate that a book about the damaging effects and dangers of meth should be titled Crank, especially since Kristina's story is about the insidious ways that the drug takes over her life and redefines the way she sees herself. The heavy, one-syllable title both sets the tone for the story and points to Kristina's struggle to get away from the drug's impact on her life.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    At the end of Crank, Kristina stands on the front porch, listening to her baby cry inside the house and thinking about her struggles as a teenage parent and continued desire for crank. "Sometimes I want to curl up in a ball and roll away," she says. "Sometimes I just want to die. I only know one thing that can make me laugh again" (Happy Endings.4). She says that no matter how much she wants to get away from it, the monster will never truly let her go—and "today, it's calling me out the door" (Happy Endings.5). Yikes. Is she going to make it?

    This is the kind of cliffhanger ending that borders on unfair. It assaults us with numerous questions. Does Kristina go off in search of drugs? Does she turn around and go back in the house? Are her old habits really dead? There's definitely some serious ambiguity going on here—while we hope Kristina will do the responsible thing and go tend to Hunter's needs, we also know there's just as much of a possibility that she'll head off in search of Robyn or someone else who can supply her craving.

    It's actually pretty significant that the final moments of the book take place on Kristina's porch, an interim location between the two choices facing her. On one hand, she can go back inside and care for her son, while on the other, she can go down the stairs and revisit the darkness of her addiction. There's only one surefire way to know which way she heads next, though, and that's to get your hands on a copy of Glass, the sequel to Crank.

  • Setting

    Reno, Nevada, 2004

    Don't think for a second that just because Reno is separated from Vegas by almost 450 miles, it doesn't have nightlife of its own. Like Las Vegas, Reno is famous for its casinos and entertainment, and while it's earned the nickname "The Biggest Little City in the World," the "biggest" aspect also includes some somewhat sketchy activity. We only need to look to Robyn's tragic tale of abuse and Kristina's brief run in with the Mexican Mafia to know that.

    While the sparse phrasing of the book's poetic style doesn't leave a lot of room for in-depth descriptions of the city, Hopkins manages to pack a big punch in terms of giving us just what we need to know through detail and structure. The poem "I Still Wasn't Down When We Landed," which describes the view of Reno's casinos as Kristina's plane prepares for landing, is shaped like a city building, adding to its description of "High rise casinos, each with a 'got rich' story or two and thousands of sad little secrets" (1). There's plenty of detail in this brief little piece, but the way the structure reflects the subject matter also speaks volumes about setting.

    If you haven't had enough cool shaped poems yet, Hopkins uses the same strategy just a couple of pages later in "Home Sweet Home," which gives a description of Kristina's family's house. The two-stanza poem is shaped like a small house, with the triangular first stanza forming the roof and the second forming the base in two columns.

    The poem itself describes "Mom's handcrafted oasis in a northern Nevada high altitude valley" (1), and the main thing we get from it is that these people live in a really nice house. It's not exactly the kind of place you would stereotypically expect to find drug activity, but then, that's kind of the book's point—it's everywhere. The setting of Kristina's family home makes this clear.

    So why set the book in the Reno area? Hopkins probably did this because the city itself walks a fine line between Kristina's family's idealistic life and the darkness of the crank scene, which in a way describes Kristina's life as well. Once she returns from her dad's, she spends a lot of time stressing over her balancing act between rediscovering Kristina and keeping Bree alive and well. One is perfect, quiet, and submissive, while the other is boisterous, impetuous, and impulsive—just lie Kristina's family as compared to the seedier sides of the city.

    The year is also a subtle, but important detail. While there's no year specifically referenced, the book's 2004 publication and the glaring absence of current technology definitely place the story somewhere in the 1990s. There are no iPhones, nobody's texting, and Kristina and Adam's relationship doesn't stay alive long distance thanks to Facebook. The closest we get is a reference in "Somehow She Didn't Notice" to getting Leigh a Palm Pilot, and those are pretty much ancient history.

    The point is this. If Kristina had an iPhone, this story would be drastically different—she'd be secretly texting Adam and Chase rather than waiting for them to call, sending Facebook messages rather than letters, and storing her Mexican mob numbers under her contacts. Not to mention that GUFN would probably also include having her phone taken away, which would add in its own set of horrors. We can only imagine what Crank would look like if it were set in the present day.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (7) Snow Line

    If you skimmed through Crank and felt like all the white space is going to make reading this book a breeze, think again—the novel may be structured as a series of poems, but the format actually makes it more challenging rather than simple.

    Through poetry, Hopkins presents a fragmented picture of how crank changes Kristina's life, one that really requires you to pay attention and analyze each poem in order to discover what's really happening. From the way Hopkins constructs dialogue to the structure of each piece, this book requires you to put on your analytical thinking cap to really get the whole picture of the story.

  • Writing Style

    Free Verse Poetry

    Rather than restrict self-expression with meter, rhyme, and all those boring structural boundaries, free verse poetry uses rhythm, internal rhyme, word choice, imagery, and other devices to create its own style that reflects the subject of the poem. With this in mind, why is this incredibly bizarre form appropriate for not just a few poems about drug addiction, but an entire book?

    We obviously can't read Ellen Hopkins's mind, but we can say this: There's something about the fragmented, surreal style of this book that illustrates the state of mind of someone whose life is controlled by drugs. The free-verse style lets the story zero in on small, telling details as a way to advance plot and character rather than the lengthy paragraphs typical of traditional novels.

    Need an example? Check out any of the poems where Kristina describes what it's like to take drugs. "No Time Like the First Time," which describes her initial exposure to crank, alternates specific emotions with rhythmic lists of effects from the drug. "You want to cry," the sixth line states, while the seventh launches into the physical consequences of the drug:

    powdered demons bite through cartilage and sinuses, take dead aim at your brain, jump inside. (No Time Like the First Time.2)

    The tension between the statements of emotions and effects of the drug create a disjointed feeling in readers that mirrors the feelings of someone using the drug. In all the poems, writing style serves as a tool for driving the characters and story forward, advancing the plot in an unconventional, language-based way.

    Another interesting free verse strategy Hopkins uses is the way she portrays dialogue. Rather than use traditional dialogue punctuation, she uses italics and justification of lines to cue us into when a character is speaking. This can take some getting used to at first, but setting the dialogue away from Kristina's thoughts seems to create a distance between her and the people in her life that mirrors the emotional distance caused by drugs.

    That said, we here at Shmoop would like to extend the following challenge: As you study Crank, look closely at each poem and think about how the free verse style reinforces themes, develops characters, and advances the storyline. Poetry can be a powerful narrative tool—it's not all sunshine and rainbows and Shakespearean sonnets.

  • Animal Imagery (In Particular, Big Cats)

    If you take one thing away from reading Crank, we hope it's that drug addiction is something wild, uncontrolled, and downright dangerous. What else fits these attributes? The animal kingdom, of course, fuzzy bunny rabbits and cuddly puppies and adorable kittens not included. We're talking rabid wildcats and sea creatures whose tentacles spring to life through the perils of substance abuse. Let's take a trip to the zoo of Crank and check out how Ellen Hopkins uses animals to showcase the story's characters and vices.

    Lince the Lynx

    Your pet cats might be soft and snuggly, but in the wild, cats are big, carnivorous, and tough to outrun. In particular, lynx are known for being skilled, stealthy hunters able to snatch their prey while avoiding human predators. Their eyes and ears, in fact, are so strong that they can spot a mouse 250 feet away. Still, they are an endangered species—they are so dependent on the supply of small animals that if the population of their prey drops, they can quickly die out.

    Hold the phone. National Geographic facts are fun and everything, but what's this got to do with Crank? A lot, actually. During the Albuquerque portion of the book, Hopkins frequently uses big cat imagery to both illustrate the dangers of the drug culture Kristina's about to enter and foreshadow the difficulties ahead. Take Lince for example—when Kristina first meets her, she tells us:

    I swear I saw her claws spring out. I froze, prey [...] She had claimed her territory. (The Return of Guinevere.3-4)

    If that passage alone doesn't convince you that Kristina ain't in Kansas anymore then check out the part where Lince walks in on Kristina and Adam making out at the bowling alley: "Lince pounced through the door, claws extended, golden eyes growing black" (Not Until the Door Opened.2). To put our Fun Animal Facts to use, it's almost like Kristina is that mouse the lynx can spot from long distances. Kristina's on Lince's turf, and she has the predatory instincts to defend her relationship with Adam.

    Playing with the Big Cats

    Lince isn't the only time wildlife imagery makes an appearance in Kristina's Albuquerque journey, though. The night after she first sees Adam, Kristina has a dream that she's walking through a meadow watching "Wildcats mating, snarls at the joining, satisfied roars signaling completion" (Through the Keyhole.4). Kristina watches with fascination until the female cat looks up and Kristina sees her face on the cat's body. What's up with that?

    It's definitely one of the more bizarre images in the book, but Kristina's dream actually provides a glimpse of her future as a drug user. At first, Kristina is an observer of the cats' activities, getting precariously closer to the dangerous animals. Then the perspective shifts, and she finds that she is actually watching herself engaging in the primal behavior. In real life, Kristina may only be watching Adam and Lince play games with each other, but a time will eventually come when she replaces Lince in the fantasy and becomes a predator herself.

    The animal imagery isn't exclusively reserved for creatures who hang out on land, though—to explore the symbolic punch of a sea creature, check out the monster's page elsewhere in this section.

  • The Monster

    When monsters show up in literature, bad things usually happen. Think about the chain of events unleashed by Frankenstein's Creature, Beowulf's smash-up with Grendel, or Smaug's mass chaos in The Hobbit. Crank, too, features a monster of its own, except it's not a greedy dragon or a giant with mommy issues—this monster is meth addiction personified.

    When you think about it, the monster is an apt name for the influence crank wields over its users. It's powerful, out of control, and terrifying, with the potential to transform people into something deformed and dysfunctional. For instance, when Adam describes his confrontation with Lince to Kristina, he tells her, "The monster rose up hard then, hard in her eyes. She looked like an animal, crazy mad, diseased" (He Told Me Why Anyway.4). While Lince has previously been described as stealthy and catlike, meth has turned her into something out of control, rabid, and terrifying.

    Later in the book, Kristina describes the monster as a different kind of creature—a strangling, life-sucking octopus. According to her, the monster's capable of "weaving its tentacles not just around you, but through you, not hard enough to kill you, but enough to keep you from reeling" (Crank, You See.2-3), until you're actually addicted to its grasp. Like a giant squid, you recognize that meth is holding you captive, but are unable—and even unwilling—to get free. It's that powerful.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Central)

    As readers, we have a pretty intimate relationship with our story's protagonist, Kristina Snow. She agrees from the beginning to tell us "the whole story" (Introduction.5) of her downward spiral, provides us with some pretty personal details about her sexploits and drug use, and ultimately tells us some pretty dark secrets.

    There's one aspect of Hopkins's narrative technique that's up for debate, though, and that's exactly how much we can trust Kristina. On one hand, she's pretty direct with the details she gives and tells us a lot of unsavory stuff that often casts her in a negative light. Still, there are some moments where she seems to veer away from the path of honesty and into unreliable narrator territory.

    Need an example? At the end of the story, Kristina confesses that there were a couple of occasions where she did drugs during her pregnancy. She is quick to add, "Don't worry. I swear it was only a time or two. You won't tell, will you?" (More Choices.7). Hmm… Is it just us, or are you getting the feeling that she's not being totally forthcoming? Kristina's definitely open about her struggle with drugs, but moments like this leave us wondering exactly how far her openness goes.

  • Plot Analysis


    "She's a Good Girl"

    Kristina Snow is the apple of her mother's eye, a gifted, talented honors student with a limitless future ahead of her. Still, Kristina can't help being dissatisfied with the pressure of her stepfather's high expectations and the fact that her mom's more interested in her midlife crisis than her family. She welcomes a break from normality as she heads to Albuquerque to visit her estranged father. 

    Rising Action

    Meeting the monster

    During her visit to see dear old Dad, Kristina's life changes forever when her summer boyfriend, Adam, introduces her to crystal meth. While she's only in town for a few weeks, that's plenty of time for the drug, as well as her desire for a more adventurous and wild life, to take hold. When she returns home, she struggles to balance her newfound "enlightenment" with her continued struggles with her mom and stepfather.


    An Untimely Surprise

    Deep in the midst of her new life as a drug user and dealer, Kristina learns that she's pregnant. This is bad enough on its own—she's only in high school, remember, and a meth addict—but what really makes it a crisis is that the father is not her boyfriend, Chase, but Brendan, the lifeguard who raped her during a drug transaction. Faced with this news, Kristina must decide whether to have an abortion or keep her child and raise him.

    Falling Action

    The Positives and Negatives of Pregnancy

    In the aftermath of her choice to keep her baby, Kristina gives us a rundown of the highlights and lowlights of the months leading up to her son's birth. She experiences the joy and wonder of feeling the baby grow, but also the fear and uncertainty of how her addiction will affect his development and future.


    "I'm Digging My Way to Something Better"

    As we leave Kristina's story, she shares that although she loves her son, being mother to a child impacted by drug addiction isn't easy. Because of her relationship with crank, the baby doesn't sleep well and cries more frequently than babies should. While she's largely clean these days, she still experiences intense urges to return to the drug.

  • Allusions

    Literary and Philosophical References

    Guinevere of the King Arthur legends (Dad Hadn't Paid His Cable Bill.4; She Went Inside.1; I Wanted to Know Him, Too.3; Lince Floated.1; GUFN Again.5)
    The River Styx (Lince Floated.1)
    John Keats, "Give Me Women, Wine, and Snuff" (We Drove Down by the River.2)
    William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (In That Quite Hot Moment.7)
    Book of Genesis (Bree? Who Was She?.4-5)

    Pop Culture References

    Friends (Dad Hadn't Paid His Cable Bill.1)
    Jerry Springer (After the Fourth.1; Used Up.2)
    Queen, "We Are the Champions" (Light-Headed.2)
    Freddie Mercury (Light-Headed.2-4)
    John Lennon (Resolutions.6, Other Problems.5)