Study Guide

Crank Writing Style

By Ellen Hopkins

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.

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