Happy Birthday, Ellen Hopkins!
By: Holly Eberle
When I originally decided to write a blog post in honor of Ellen Hopkins’ birthday, I merely wanted to write about Ellen and her body of work. However, these days so many birthdays and celebrations are being postponed or canceled so I feel the need to mention CoVid-19 as well. What a bummer. I sincerely hope that Ellen & everyone else with a March birthday gets to celebrate soon.
Ellen Hopkins is a powerhouse author in the realm of censorship. She is known to keep a collection of letters sent to her from readers, explaining why her books were so important and valuable to them. She then sends these letters to groups that would like to ban or censor her to show why her work has value. In my opinion, this is an excellent counter argument to a challenge as well as an excellent example of Ranganathan’s third law of library science: Every book its reader.
Ellen Hopkins’ books challenge what is considered normal for the average American teenager. They break down the doors of stigma that often create unhealthy barriers in the picture-perfect, suburban households she often writes about. The Crank series was also her actual everyday normal for a while as the mother of a teenage girl with substance abuse disorder. Since some of her work is semi-autobiographical, this has to make the repeated attempts at censorship sting just a little bit more. We need her books though. 200 Americans die per day of preventable, accidental drug overdoses. This number has been steadily increasing alongside the national opioid epidemic.
Let’s be real, in 2020 we all know someone in some part of our lives who has been affected by substance abuse disorder. But back in 2004 when Crank was first published, stigma was a much bigger deal. Stigma against people, specifically teens, with substance abuse disorder was a huge factor in pushing Crank to the 4th spot on the Top 10 Most Challenged Books for 2010. Substance abuse disorder is a very isolating thing, not just to the person themselves, but also their loved ones. Reading about a similar experience validates their experiences. It can be a path towards talking about the traumatic experience. Ellen Hopkins’ books belong in the hands of whoever wants to read them.
In 2016, I was volunteering weekly for a local teen center. All of the teens there knew I was a librarian by day and some of the teen girls actually asked me to start a book club for them. I agreed but was not sure what to read. The girls told me that they wanted to read Crank by Ellen Hopkins. We purchased books for them and read until the scheduled meeting.
I planned this whole literary book club with discussion questions about not only the content but also possible symbology behind physical shapes of Crank’s poems. In reality, I did not need to do anything. This book club was a conduit to talk openly about drug abuse and other students in their high schools that already used drugs. They needed to do that with a couple of non-parent and non-teacher adults. This was a real issue impacting their everyday lives as individuals coming of age during a heroin epidemic.
Later on, I reached out to Ellen Hopkins about a possible author visit to the teen center. It ended up not being possible for us but when she attended a nearby bookshop conference, a colleague of mine attended and had her sign a copy of Glass (sequel to Crank), specially addressed to that teen center’s teens. They thought being recognized by one of their favorite authors was the coolest thing ever.
The Crank series launched Ellen’s career. However, she writes about a wide array of tough topics for young adults. Eating disorders, body image, human trafficking, relationships, and abuse are all topics she has tackled before. Her most recent book, People Kill People, was released in 2018 and focuses on the intertwined relationship between mental health and gun violence.
So…to Ellen: Thank you for everything you have done for young adults all over the world. And Happy Birthday! I hope you are able to celebrate somewhere, somehow, in these wild pandemic times.
Holly Eberle is the Youth Technology Librarian at the Algonquin Area Public Library District in northern Illinois and a member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee. She received her MLIS from the University of Illinois in December 2015. Her passion for the intellectual freedom rights of youth began in kindergarten when her elementary school library pulled the Goosebumps series off the shelves. She also is interested in the technological realm of intellectual freedom and privacy issues. Outside of the library she is a metalhead and you may follow her on Instagram @doom_metal_librarian.