Alfred A. Knopf, 1996 162 pgs
John "Crash" Coogan has always been a bruiser, hence the nickname. When new kid, Penn Webb, moves into the neighborhood he immediately annoys Crash. He parents are too old, his family is too happy, they don't eat meat or believe in guns or war, Penn wears goofy buttons, dresses weird and doesn't have a TV or toys or care about stuff other kids think are important. Crash manages to avoid Penn for years until sixth grade when Mike moves to the neighborhood and the boys instantly bond. They are both on the football team, like the same things, and believe in that torturing Penn will elevate their own social stature. This gets worse when Penn joins the cheer leading squad and becomes even dorkier in Crash and Mike's eyes. Meanwhile, Crash's beloved grandfather Scooter moves in, giving the family much needed adult guidance and nurturing. Penn and Jane (Crash's crush) campaign to stop construction on a new shopping mall and Crash's sister joins the fight. She make matters worse by becoming vegetarian and attempting to turn their backyard into a wildlife sanctuary. Despite Crash's athletic prowess, Jane refuses his romantic advances, choosing instead to spend time with Penn. Is the whole world going crazy? Crash's football season ends with victory, yet because of his actions something terrible happens to a family member that makes him question his "crash-able" ways. The book ends on a hopeful and satisfactory note of redemption and character growth.
Penned by Newbery winner Jerry Spinelli, Crash is one of my favorite books. I am notorious for hating endings of books and can count on my fingers how many I truly am happy with. This book features my favorite last line. I have probably used this book at least four times in book discussion, so it may be my sixth time reading it and that line never fails to choke me up. I chose to use this book for this summer's Battle of the Books at my library because I am featuring all sports titles to go along with our theme "On Your Mark, Get Set, Read!" I thought it would also be a good choice because it will appeal to kids who love Wonder, which continues to be a hot title in my library. It is a book that works on many different levels. On the surface it looks like a sports story and you can sell to sports readers. More importantly it a book about bullying from the bully's perspective and the importance of staying true to yourself, even if its socially hard. Other themes include urbanization and the environment, the evils of materialism, the importance of the family dinner, and questioning what our American culture constitutes as "successful" in terms of life choices. Spinelli shows us what truly matters at the end of the day and most of the characters in this story get the message. Twenty years later I still love this book. It is not dated and continues to be relevant. As a note to parents, there are a few insults in the book that made me a little uncomfortable for younger readers and there is one swear-word. That said, it is much tamer than most movies targeted at this age group and the issues raised and the character growth demonstrated