Football hero Crash Coogan had his suspicions about the new guy from the moment they met. In fact, the more he learns about his neighbor Penn Webb, the more his spidey sense is starting to tingle. In his heart, he knows that kid just ain't right.
Slowly, the evidence mounts. Penn doesn't believe in water guns, which seems very suspicious, indeed. More suspicious still, he wears clothes from the thrift shop. (Shudder.) Penn's parents are artists, if you can believe it. They don't even work in an office.
Finally, when Crash goes over to Penn's place for dinner one night, his worst fears are confirmed: the Webbs are totally hippies. The horror!
Seriously. They don't even eat meat.
Hot-blooded American that he is, Crash knows just what to do. He's going to be a grade-A jerk to these, these creatures. He will not fall victim to their boundless enthusiasm and their secondhand clothes. He will take a stand. Yes, Crash is the story of one boy's brave battle against a sweet hippie family in the hopes that they'll stop being so dang nice to him.
Author Jerry Spinelli is pretty darn famous for his stories of childhood and adolescence. He's a Newbery medalist who's written more than two dozen novels for kids. The back of the book says he wrote Crash, which was published in 1996, "to show the world a little bit of what jocks are made of."
Spoiler alert: it's mostly pepperoni pizza.
Because different is good. And we're not just saying that because Angelina Jolie did.
Sure, we've gotta admit that Crash isn't exactly wrong to think that Penn and his folks are a little weird.
They call themselves "Flickertails" because they're from North Dakota, a state with lots of squirrels. They eat oatburgers, which aren't all that appetizing. And they're always doing annoying stuff like inviting Crash to dinner or to accompany them on weekend outings.
Except, now that we think about it, getting invited places isn't really so annoying, is it? It's actually sort of nice. And maybe, just maybe, oatburgers aren't all that bad. Also, admit it: Flickertails are pretty darn cute. Look at those eyes!
Crash can't see any of that, though, at least at first, so he does what anyone in his shoes would do: he leaves a meatball on the Webb family's porch.
We kid. No one else would ever do that.
The truth is, Crash doesn't have a good reason to meatball his neighbors. (Come to think of it, there's probably not a good reason to meatball anyone, ever.) He just rejects Penn and his family for daring to be different. Instead, he hangs out with Mike, a dude who is into all the same stuff he is. And by "stuff," we mean football and being a jerk, which are Crash's favorite hobbies.
Over time, though, Crash starts to see Mike in a new light, and he doesn't much like what he sees. Around the same time, he starts to appreciate Penn, who's basically the nicest guy in the world. Could it be that being different isn't really so bad? Could different be better, even?
Dear Shmooper, you can probably guess our answer. Different isn't bad at all. In fact, it's very often great—and if you think otherwise, it's probably you who needs to change. So, take a page from the book and go out into the world to find yourself a Penn pal today. You'll be better for it.
The Author's Official Website
Check out this amazing website, which was made in prehistoric internet times.
Scholastic's Author Page
The author also has a page with one of his publishers.
One of Jerry Spinelli's early novels, Maniac Magee (1990), was made into a TV movie in 2003. It aired on Nickelodeon.
A Quick NPR Interview
You can listen to the audio or read the interview with Spinelli—the choice is yours.
A Short Interview With the Author
This interview was conducted by kids, btw.
Meet the Author
Jerry Spinelli used to wear a cowboy costume to school, which is pretty dang awesome.
Crash, in Stereo
Here's someone reading Chapter 18. Cool, cool, cool.
Meet Jerry Spinelli
Well, look at that. It's the author.
The Book Cover
We didn't draw the mustache, we swear.