Study Guide

Crank Setting

By Ellen Hopkins


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.

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