The many changes of Jerry Spinelli’s Crash
At the beginning of Jerry Spinelli’s novel Crash, the title character believes he is on the top of the world. Although some people might not consider being best, record-breaking player on a 7th grade football team to be a big deal, to Crash it is everything. He is big, strong, and dominates everyone around him. He thinks that everything can be understood and solved with a little bit of brawn and muscle. “On the football field I don’t run around people, I run through them. Life is football,” he says (Spinelli 83). The only person to whom he really feels a connection on a deeper level is his grandfather Scooter. But after Scooter suffers a stroke, Crash learns how little he knows about life, and begins to feel compassion for other people.
At home, Crash’s parents pay little attention to their son. It is easy to see how and why he searches for a sense of self-esteem in football. Violence in the name of sport seems encouraged in the family — Crash got his nickname (his real name is John Coogan) when he got his first football helmet as a Christmas present and smashed his cousin Bridget into a snow bank. This is one reason why he hates his neighbor Penn Weber so much. He says it is because Penn is skinny, wimpy, a Quaker, and a social activist and wears second-hand clothing instead of fancy, name-brand clothes bought at the mall. But really it is because Penn’s parents support him, no matter what their son does — even when Penn joins the cheerleading squad.
As soon as Penn moves next door, Crash does everything he can to make Penn feel inferior. He is completely intolerant of people’s differences. He destroys Penn’s buttons that say ‘peace’ and mocks the Webers’ food when they ask him over for dinner. The fact that his sister Abby likes the Webers makes it even worse — she protests the new mall they are going to build in town and takes a new interest in social activism as a result of her dealings with the Webers. “You’re just mad because I’m against the mall and you’re working for them,” she shouts at her mother (Spinelli 94). Crash and his best friend Mike Deluca make a sport of teasing Penn at every opportunity and Penn is so pure, so clueless (or so true to his Quaker principles) he acts as though he does not notice.
Penn is not entirely a wimp — like Crash, he is a good runner. Crash tries to beat him whenever they run, because he hates to loose. But Crash begins to reevaluate his priorities when his grandfather Scooter has a stroke. Scooter came to live with the Coogans to help take care of Crash and his sister, and Crash relates to Scooter’s tough old navy style. Crash is devastated when Scooter becomes sick, and wishes he could do something — eventually, he realizes what that ‘something’ is. Crash learns that Penn is desperate to run in the Penn Relays, “the oldest, biggest, and best relay track meet in the world” that is held near where the boys live in Pennsylvania (Spinelli 143). Penn wants his great-grandfather, for whom he is named, to watch him run in the relays while he is still alive. Crash learns that Penn actually comes from a very wealthy family and that his great-grandfather was once a former track star.
So Crash does the unthinkable — he loses a race so Penn can run in the relays and his grandfather can see him before he dies. This shows how much Crash has changed over the course of the book. Crash was once hyper-competitive and thought that being second meant you were nothing. But by losing the race, Crash wins something much more — he wins a true friend in the form of Penn, and abandons the cruelty he showed towards Penn, along with his friend Mike who egged him on. By the end of the book, Crash can not believe he went along with the terrible pranks Mike played on Penn, like soaking him with water until Penn became ill, and because Crash has become a nicer person, he ends the book by getting the girl of his dreams, Penn’s friend and a fellow cheerleader.
Spinelli, Jerry. Crash. New York: Yearling, 1997.
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