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Book Review

Crash by Jerry Spinelli has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

John Coogan, known as Crash, has a tendency to crash into people and things, especially other players on the football field. At the beginning of first grade, Crash meets Penn Webb. Penn and his family are vegetarians and Quakers. Penn wants to be friends with Crash and invites him to dinner.

Crash thinks Penn is weird and resists being friends. His younger sister, Abby, becomes friends with Penn. In sixth grade, Mike Deluca moves across the street. He and Crash become instant friends, and the two make it their business to torment and bully Penn.

On the first day of seventh grade, Crash meets Jane Forbes. She is new to school, and Crash thinks she’s beautiful. He hopes she tries out for cheerleading. He thinks that if she sees him play football, she’ll like him. That afternoon, Crash peeks in at the cheerleading tryouts, and Jane is there. Penn is also trying out for cheerleading.

Penn has a new habit of taking his shoes off during class. Mike and Crash decide to put mustard in his shoes during history. During football practice, Crash sees Jane helping Penn clean his shoes. Jane and Penn both make the cheerleading squad. Penn’s parents come to the football games, but Crash’s parents rarely make it. Crash is angry that his parents don’t come to see him play.

After one of his football games, Crash comes home to find his grandfather, Scooter, at the house cooking dinner. Crash is thrilled to see Scooter. When his mom comes home, she reveals that Scooter is going to stay with them long term.

She also shares that the real estate firm where she works won the contract for the new mall, and she is being given some of the work. When Abby comes home, she is wearing a shirt protesting the new mall. Penn and his parents are protesting the mall and making shirts to promote their cause.

At the middle school dance, Crash approaches Jane and asks her to dance. She says no. Crash is confused why anyone would say no to him, so he grabs her hand and tries to pull her onto the dance floor. She fights back and kicks him in the Achilles tendon.

Penn, not realizing he’s walking into an argument, says hi to Crash and Jane. Jane uses the opportunity to escape by asking Penn to dance. After their dance, Crash pushes Penn and pretends it was an accident. He doesn’t like Jane anymore and calls her a hag.

Penn and Jane start skipping games and practices in order to protest the new mall. They are thrown off the cheerleading squad. Abby joins them in one of their protests and ends up being interviewed by a reporter. The protests don’t work, and mall construction moves forward.

On Thanksgiving, the family decides to play touch football in the backyard. Crash gets carried away and tackles Scooter. For the first time, he realizes how fragile his grandfather is. A month later, Scooter has a stroke and is hospitalized. He makes it through, but has lost most of his mobility and the ability to speak. Penn and his parents come by to bring food for the family, but Crash refuses to eat what they bring. Christmas arrives, but everything feels sad and different to Crash.

After Christmas, Mike comes over to show off his presents. He goes to the kitchen for a snack and comes back with a hat from Scooter’s room. Crash is mad that Mike was snooping and takes the hat from him. The doorbell rings, and Crash looks to see who it is.

Penn is at the door with a package. When Crash doesn’t answer, he leaves his gift and goes. Crash reads the note on the package. Penn has gifted Scooter a jar of mud from the Missouri River. When they met back in first grade, Penn told Crash the legend of how the mud could cure whatever ailments a person had.

Back at school, Crash has lost all interest in bullying Penn. Mike gets angry with him and can’t understand why his friend has changed. The changes in Crash continue when Abby is upset that Scooter won’t be out of the hospital in time to make his special brownies for her birthday. Crash tries to make them for her, but she gets angry because they aren’t the same. She later apologizes and thanks Crash for trying.

In English class, the students are assigned to write an essay describing someone they know and what that person means to them. Mike steals Penn’s essay and passes it to Crash. Crash reads the essay.

Penn wrote about his great-grandfather. Penn wants to run in the Penn Relay, which is the race his great-grandfather named him for. The relay is coming up and since his great-grandfather is in town, Penn hope to use the opportunity to make him proud. Crash returns the essay to Penn in time for him to hand in the assignment.

Mike steals Penn’s pet turtle and leaves him a ransom note. Penn must eat meat at lunch if he wants to see his turtle again. Jane accuses Crash of writing the letter. He tells her it wasn’t him. After school, Crash goes to Mike’s house and gets the turtle back. He secretly returns the pet.

Both Crash and Penn join the track team. Penn trains in the evenings in hope that he will make the relay team for the Penn Relay. The track coach puts three eighth-graders on the relay team, which leaves one spot for another student. Crash can’t get Penn’s essay out of his mind. During the tryout for the final relay spot, Crash throws the race to Penn so he can run and make his great-grandfather proud.

A year later, much has changed in Crash’s life. His mother only works part time and is home with the family more. Even his father spends more time with the family. Crash has stopped being a bully. Jane has invited Crash to a party, and he considers Penn his best friend.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Crash believes in luck and keeps a pair of sparkly high heels he bought because he believes they might be lucky.

Authority Roles

Scooter has a wonderful relationship with both Crash and Abby. When he comes to live with them, both children are excited because Scooter takes time to bond with them, and they feel safe with him. He acts as a confidant and role model to them. When he has a stroke, Crash struggles with Scooter’s mortality.

Both of Crash’s parents work long hours and aren’t home for their children. Crash can sense that his parents are exhausted and overworked. Most nights, neither parent is home for dinner. At one point, a housekeeper is hired to cook and clean a few days a week. It is clear that both parents are working because they want to provide the best money can buy for Crash and Abby. It isn’t until the end of the book that they put aside their materialistic ways and make time for their kids.


Crash and Mike hit each other and are very aggressive, though they are mostly playing around. During the first football practice of the season, Crash wrestles an eighth-grader to the ground and starts punching his football helmet. Crash pushes Penn at the school dance, and he falls.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying: Many of the characters lie, including the adults. Crash’s mom lies to Abby about buying her clothes second hand because Abby is more concerned about outward appearances than cost.

Alternative beliefs: Penn and his parents are Quakers. Penn explains that a Quaker is a person who doesn’t believe in violence. They are also vegetarians and activists who protest the new mall and advocate for peace.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

12 and up


Jerry Spinelli






Record Label



Dell Laurel-Leaf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books


On Video

Year Published



ALA Best Books for Your Adults, 1997


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