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Book Review: The Mighty Crashman by Jerry Spinelli

 Book Review: The Mighty Crashman by Jerry Spinelli

Though Crash Coogans nickname might have had its origins in a football incident involving his cousin and a bodytackle, its more than applicable to his personal ideology. You see, Crash essentially functions as a human steamroller. Hes like one of those suitcase-toting, umbrella-wielding executives storming through the CBD during peak hour: youd better get out of the way if you dont want to go flying.

But new kid Penn Webb isnt yielding to Crash Coogans brash, bullying ways. In fact, no matter how much Crash attempts to get in Webbs face, Webb isnt fazed. Hes in another world entirely. One of op-shop clothing, pacifism, environmentalism, and anti-consumerism. Where Crashs world is measured by the designer goods and tech gear hes managed to stockpile, Webbs is all about stuff that cant be purchased. And try though Crash might, hes soon learning that a Cold War is tough to set in motion when the other party isnt even aware that youre getting a bit Dr Strangelove on them.

Who says you have to believe in [violence]?, says Crash. You just do it.

And now Crash is finding that Webbs quite self-assurance is contagious. His usual in-your-face posturing and aggression isnt exactly effective when others arent playing the game. Its not just Webb. Its Crashs sister. Its Jane, the girl Crash has a crush on. Its even Crashs parents. But though Crash is realising that hes irrelevant in his own world, hes going to have to come up with another way of coping, because barrelling through life is not proving to be as effective a strategy as hes always assumed. Particularly now that his family has been rocked by an incident that is going to affect them all.

The Mighty Crashman is my first Jerry Spinelli novel (although I do have one of the Stargirl books on my shelf), and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. Spinelli manages to pack so much into such a slender volume, and does so without it feeling overladen or messy. Though the novels written in the ubiquitous first person present tense, it avoids falling into the trap of lengthy chunks of exposition. Rather, Crashs actions do the talking, and superbly so.

Even where exposition is used, its done in a way that highlights Crashs unreliability as a narrator: any misdemeanour on his behalf is dismissed with hedges such as, I guess I took too long or I guess I forgot. Even his jealousy about his sisters friendship with Webb is hidden beneath a veneer of disdain:'For some reason it bugs me, how alike Webb and my sister are. Especially with nature stuff. They go walking his turtle together. It shows you how immature he is, hanging out with a fifth grader. And theyre both perky. He also tries to dismiss his possible culpability regarding his grandfathers stroke:'That nightmy mind went back to the football game, to Scooter, to the tackle. Why did I do it? I was just being me, thats all. The Crash Man.

Crash isnt the most pleasant of point of view characters, but Spinelli manages to write him in such a way that though hes obnoxious and conceited, he feels less like a true bully and more like the conflicted, big-mouthed teen we all recognise in ourselves. His hurt over his parents long working hours manifests as defensiveness (Now really, would you rather have my money or my time?'Your money.) but comes through painfully palpably in his delight over his affectionate grandfather coming to stay with the family, and in his disappointment that his record-scoring football game wasnt recordedwhich means that his parents wont be able to see it. Crashs arc is strong and believable, if a little larger than life. But then, thats the whole vibe of the book: its big and noisy and exuberant. The only weak points are its slightly awkward flashback beginning, and the abrupt conclusion, which in its brevity leaves the reader feeling a little steamrolled.

In all, The Mighty Crashman is a warm, big-hearted account of the incomparable importance of family over material goods, and of Crashs realisation that not all problemsor peopleare best managed by steamrolling through them. His grandfathers words resonate on a number of levels when he says:'Dont worry so much about it. Its not the sneakers that count. Its the feet.

Rating: star Book Review: The Mighty Crashman by Jerry Spinellistar Book Review: The Mighty Crashman by Jerry Spinellistar Book Review: The Mighty Crashman by Jerry Spinellihalfstar Book Review: The Mighty Crashman by Jerry Spinelliblankstar Book Review: The Mighty Crashman by Jerry Spinelli (very good)

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