Synopsis: John “Crash” Coogan is exactly what his nickname would indicate. He pretty much crashes through life. The summer before first grade, a dweeby kid named Penn Webb moves in the renovated-garage-house down the road. Penn has a lot going against him, in Crash’s mind. He’s a Quaker from North Dakota, a “late baby” (his mom pushing 40 when he had him and his dad a little older). Crash decides to torture Penn. He buries his button that he’s wearing on the first meeting. Penn invites Crash to dinner, and they’re vegetarians who serve Crash oat burgers (but there’s other good stuff too). Penn’s parents are really sweet, laugh at Crash when he’s being rude (“Are you poor?”), and invite him to go to Amish Country that weekend. Crash says he’s going to a baseball game with his dad and they drop it. Later, Crash begs his dad to take him to a game, but dad’s working 70 hours a week and just can’t.
Fast forward to sixth grade, where Crash meets another meathead, Mike. They decide to make Penn’s life miserable. Now we’re caught up, and it’s seventh grade.
Crash and Mike are going out for football, which is no surprise. The real surprise is the new girl in class, Jane Forbes, who’s gorgeous, and Penn… who both go out for cheerleading. At the first football game, Crash scores six touchdowns in the first half. His parents are not in the stands, but he sees Penn’s parents cheering him on, which just enrages him. (Crash’s parents are workaholics to the nth degree; see “70 hour week.”) Crash walks home dejectedly, and smells dinner– cooking from his house? Crash’s grandpa, Scooter, is moving in for good, which is super exciting. Everyone’s had a good day; Mom the real estate agent gets to work on the new mall project. But little sister Abby (walking in right after this great announcement) is excited because she’s going to protest the mall, and make their backyard into a nature reserve. They have a conversation about how the parents are working hard have a good home for the kids, etc. Abby’s all, I want to make THE WORLD a better place for my kids! Interesting divide there. But, Scooter’s there, so the world really is a better place. (He makes dinner AND comes to practices and games.) In the meantime, Penn is the target of many pranks.
A week before Christmas, Scooter has a stroke while building an observation deck for Abby’s nature reserve. He’s in the hospital for a while. While he’s out, Mike comes over and hangs out at Crash’s, compares Christmas gifts, and he goes into Grandpa’s room and wears his sailor hat, which does not fly with Crash. Crash has to walk away to cool down, and sees Penn ringing the doorbell. Penn leaves a package for Scooter, and it’s mud that is supposed to have healing powers (something that goes back to first grade that I forgot to tell you about). Crash is kinda stunned that Penn is being so kind during his family trauma.
In English class, Mike grabs Penn’s essay from his desk and balls it up. He tosses it to Crash, and Crash reads the essay about a significant person in their life. Crash wrote about Scooter, but Penn wrote about his great-grandfather. Penn is training to run in the Penn Relays so that his great-grandfather can see him in it. Crash gives the essay back after class so Penn’s not in trouble. Shortly after, Mike steals Penn’s pet turtle (and making Penn eat meat is the condition of getting him returned in the ransom note), and Jane accuses Crash of the crime. Crash quickly realizes who did it, so he barges into Mike’s room and takes the turtle back. It’s the last we hear about Mike and Crash being buddies. Crash drops off the turtle.
Mom went to part-time work, and Scooter is back at home. Family is starting to come back together. Having Scooter back makes Crash very reflective and, well, a better person. Crash and Penn are both on the track team, and there’s one spot left on the Penn Relay team. Even though Crash is the fastest person period, Crash purposefully loses so Penn can go. He finally understands that there’s something bigger than just winning, and Penn is (after all those years), officially a friend.
Have I mentioned I’m peeling wallpaper? And there’s three layers of it? And I’m only on the second wall? Ok. So, I’ve had the audiobook Crash on my computer ever since I borrowed it from the library a year or so ago. If I don’t get details perfect, my apologies.
- It’s really interesting to read from the point of view of the bully. Because, honestly, Crash is a big one. He becomes better but he totally fits the stereotype of jerk athlete.
- It broke my heart at how Crash’s parents kept talking about working to provide for the kids, but sometimes, you just have to provide yourself. Abby makes a realization that they ate dinner together as a family early in the book, as if it’s never happened before. If your kid makes a big deal about eating as a family, c’mon. Is the 70-hour-week really making your lives that much better?
- In contrast, when Crash asks the Webbs if they’re poor, they say, in many ways we’re rich. Which translates to, no, but we’ve got each other and that’s enough.
- There’s always a quirky little sister in Spinelli books… Abby is cute as a button as her environmentalist self. She’s a science nerd, playing with worms and leaving an old doll house out for mice to make their nests.
- Penn just breaks my heart. He’s got the turn the other cheek thing down pat, and he never says anything to anyone about the torture. Usually, these kids are not fun to pick on, but Mike eats it up. Even in first grade, he lets Crash shoot him with a water gun until he runs out of water, then he hands Crash the water gun Crash loaned him. Goodness! I’ve only known one Quaker so I don’t know if that’s common behavior or what.
Grades: 5/6-7th. This would be good for your reluctant boy reader, or someone who just plain likes sports. Not ALL sports-related, like, all I know about football I learned from my nephew, but I followed it and all.
Grade: B/B+. I’m not going to re-read it probably, and I’ll probably get it off my computer (finally), but it was a good book. You’re going to remember good ol’ Penn and Crash for a while after reading it.