Jerry Spinelli is the first author I legitimately fangirled over. I remember my fifth grade teacher reading us chapters of The Wringer and Maniac Magee during class. I read Stargirl in a matter of hours, and I just kept on reading his books. I loved him and his writing, and he’s the first author whose body of work I really admired. But the one book that has stuck with me the most, the one that’s still sitting on my bookshelf today at 23 years old, is Crash.
Crash tells the story of a kid named Crash Coogan, who is basically the epitome of a jock. When I was young, I played a lot of sports, and I think that’s part of the reason why the book sparked my interest at first. But now, I’m the exact opposite—I haven’t played an organized sport since high school, and I’d much rather do…well, anything but sports. However, Crash still has a place reserved on my bookshelf, which has seen its fair share of books swapped in and out over the years. Why is it still a book that I think about? Why do I still have my battered, torn copy? Why don’t I reread it for the Throwback Issue and find out?
Crash has a pretty simple premise; a new, geeky kid named Penn Webb moves to town in the first grade; popular jock John “Crash” Coogan doesn’t take kindly to it and essentially aspires to make Penn’s life a living hell. By the seventh grade, Penn is still Crash’s number one target, and his best friend Mike Deluca has also gotten in on the anti-Penn action.
The first thing I realized was how much I loved the book’s dialogue. For as long as I can remember, dialogue has been my favorite thing to write and read; I’m liable to swoon if I come across a good conversation. Spinelli writes kid dialogue realistically and can switch effortlessly between that and adult dialogue. I never found myself cringing at how awkward something sounded except when it was meant to be, like one of those weird phrases we thought was cool to say in seventh grade but then quickly grew out of.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to be so affected by this book again. I enjoyed it when I was young, but for completely different reasons than I do now. When I was a kid, I was just entertained by it, enjoyed the writing style, and wanted to emulate it. Reading Crash now, though, I found myself empathizing with characters, noticing when characters challenge different stereotypes, and focusing on the more “adult” problems that Crash and his family deal with, as opposed to the simple “will Crash/won’t Crash get the fourth spot on the relay team” problems.
There’s a point in Crash where Crash’s grandpa, Scooter, a former sailor, has a stroke. He and his little sister Abby struggle to deal with this and the changes that come along with it, and there’s a quote from Crash that I no doubt skipped over when I was younger, but that hit me hard enough this time around that I underlined it four times.
“Before, it was like Scooter was captain and we were the mates. Now it’s turned around. We’re the captains. You don’t feel so safe being captain.”
There have been some situations recently where roles have been reversed and I’ve gone from being a mate to a captain, and Crash is right; you don’t feel so safe being captain. It’s terrifying sometimes, and maybe it’s just one of those reading-it-at-the-right-time things, but I was really glad to read that quote.
The book also addresses some issues that are more prevalent and commonplace than they were when I was young, which I think still makes the book relevant and accessible today. Penn is a boy on the cheerleading team, and Abby loves animals, is constantly outside, and plays with mud and bugs. At one point in the book, Abby asks her dad how many square feet are in an acre. Their mother, a real estate agent, immediately replies with the answer of 43,560. Later on at dinner, their mother brings it up again:
“Speaking of gender issues, why did you ask your father about the number of square feet in an acre? Why not your mother?”
Abby had a yellow mustache from melted cheese. She looked stumped for a minute. “I think… I thought… acres was men’s stuff.”
“That kind of thinking,” said my mother, pointing her finger, “will make you a second-class citizen.”
Ladies, kicking ass and taking names, one novel at a time.
When I finished rereading Crash, I had a cheeseball moment and, on impulse, pulled the book in close to my chest. I caught myself smiling while reading different scenes from the last three chapters. I remembered why I loved this book so much, and nearly ten years later, I’m so glad to say that it hasn’t lost any of the magic that I remember being included between its covers.
Allison Racicot is the Audiobook Reviewer at Girls in Capes. She’s a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, and has a degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. She spends too much time listening to podcasts and getting overly attached to fictional characters.