You probably know Ellen Hopkins as the New York Times best-selling author of the Crank trilogy. If you loved her other forays into the world of YA literature, you’re in for a treat. Her latest verse novel, Traffick, is out today. To celebrate its release, Ellen talked with us about the story behind Crank, what she really thinks about the practice of banning of books, and why Traffick came to fruition.
HelloGiggles: First of all, for those who don’t know, could you fill us in a little on the story behind Crank and how you became a young adult (YA) author?
Ellen Hopkins: Crank is my first YA novel. I was writing as a freelance journalist and nonfiction author, while dabbling in books for children — picture books — and raising three children. My middle child, the straight A+ kid you’d never expect to fall into drugs did, and her drug of choice happened to be crystal meth. After struggling with her addiction for several years, she wound up in prison. When that happened, I knew I had to write “her” story, only fictionalized, with the hope of turning other young people away from that path. The book belonged to a YA audience.
HG: Why do you think teens are so receptive to the verse style?
EH: Besides the obvious white space, which allows room to pause when necessary, poetry has an innate beauty in the language which is alluring, though it’s mostly on a subconscious level. For reluctant readers, it allows successful exploration of the storyline without excess verbiage denying the experience.
HG: The ambition for your writing is clear: You wish to explore sensitive, urgent issues that teens face, allowing for thought-provoking discussion of these topics. Your books have ended up in the top 10 on the list of most commonly banned books for three years (2009, 2010, 2012). What would you like to say to those people who are requesting that your books be banned from schools and public libraries?
EH: My books are necessary. They offer insight and knowledge not always available to young adults. They give readers a voice and offer comfort. I’ve received literally tens of thousands of messages from readers over the years, telling me my books have helped them understand themselves or people close to them who’ve experienced the things I write about. Many, many readers have told me my books have saved their lives. It’s not melodrama. It’s truth. Even beyond that, however, is the fact that no one person or group should ever be allowed to speak for everyone. What’s offensive to one is necessary to another. Books offer a safe place to explore darker recesses of the world.
EH: Traffick is the sequel to Tricks, and begins where Tricks left off, with all five protagonists moving forward. Along the way, readers discover the stories of other young people who have been trafficked (coerced into sexual exploitation). It is written in verse.
HG: You chose to tackle five different issues with five different characters in Tricks. This is ambitious. Why were these five issues, and by extension these five characters, so important for you to include?
EH: There are many reasons why young people end up turning tricks, though generally it comes down to survival. Each story I heard while researching both books belonged to the individual I interviewed. Some had similar elements, but every one was personal.
HG: When did you decide to write Traffick? What was it about this story that you felt needed to be expanded on?
EH: I never write a book expecting to write a sequel, but sometimes reader demand forces me to consider it. I actually didn’t decide to write Traffick until about six months before I started it. I wanted to explore the idea of “going home” after experiencing the life. Is it possible? And, mostly, is it still possible to love and be loved?
(Images via EllenHopkins.com and Margaret K. McElderry Books.)