05 July 2010


Reading Diary: Crash by Jerry Spinelli

I grinned to myself. "Okay, I said, "one really, really last chance. A race." I pointed. "Up to the mailbox and back to"--I ran my sneaker toe along the edge of the driveway--"here."

We crouched, toes on the crack. I called: "Ready! . . . Set! . . . Go!"

I was six years old and had never lost a race in my life. That's why I was so surprised when I reached out to push off the cool blue metal of the mailbox to see his hand there, too. On the way back, I kicked in the afterburners and zipped across the finish line. His footsteps were loud behind me . . .

You've heard of picky eaters, right? Well, my brothers are picky readers. They don't know what they might want to read, but they certainly know what they hate to read. Choosing books for them is a major challenge.

Since Cue-card Boy liked Maniac Magee so much, I thought our next book should be by the same author, and since I already had Crash, it was a logical choice.

But I think I enjoyed rereading it for the umpteenth time more than they enjoyed reading it for the first time.

. . . That night, even after I closed my eyes, I kept seeing our hands hit the mailbox together.

Crash is a novel about two boys who have next to nothing in common. John "Crash" Coogan likes playing with toy guns; Penn Webb is a Quaker who won't even touch one. Crash the meat-eater loves hamburgers; Penn the vegetarian prefers oatburgers. Crash minds the price tags when he goes shopping; Penn wears clothes from the thrift shop. Crash is on the first string of his school's football team; Penn is the only boy on the cheerleading team. Crash is strong and athletic; Penn is scrawny and hopeless at everything.

Well, okay, not everything: Penn is also a surprisingly fast runner.

The two boys might be neighbours, but Crash doesn't think that means they have to get along. As two runners in the same race, they represent the classic parallel lines that never meet (or never have to meet?)--and Crash likes it that way. But hovering over both of them is the one thing they have in common: that early haunting image of their hands hitting the mailbox together. It's a strange sort of "high five" between friends that can't take its conventional form just yet, because Crash and Penn are not friends just yet.

While reading this with my brothers, I tried to point out the many things Crash and Penn actually had in common. And by the second half of the book, I was also making them draw contrasts between Penn and Mike DeLuca, whom Crash takes to with the same speed and conviction with which he first rejected Penn. It's easy to write someone off for being weird, but real friendship goes deeper than that.

At the halfway mark, where I usually passed him, he was still ahead, and I still didn't know if I wanted to win. I gassed it. The gap closed. I could hear him puffing, like a second set of footsteps. Cinder flecks from his feet pecked at my shins. I was still behind. The finish line was closing. I kicked in the afterburners. Ten meters from the white string we were shoulder to shoulder, breath to breath, grandson to great-grandson, and it felt new, it felt good, not being behind, not being ahead, but being even, and just like that, a half breath from the white string, I knew . . .

. . . that there is at least one thing more important than being the strongest, the fastest, or the coolest person you know. It is being the best friend you can be.


Image Source: Crash by Jerry Spinelli


Sullivan McPig said...

Sounds like a very beautiful and moving book.

Enbrethiliel said...


It's very touching, yes, but because it's a book for boys, it manages to put up a brave front. ;-)

Betty: Reflections with Coffee said...

Great review -- love the way you described the boys.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment, Betty. =) I hope you get a chance to read this book, too.