Study Guide

John "Crash" Coogan in Crash

By Jerry Spinelli

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John "Crash" Coogan

Crash is the name. Football's the game. And it's been that way since Crash was a tiny tot known as John, when his uncle gave him his nickname. "As far as I can tell, I've always been crashing—into people, into things, you name it, with or without a helmet" (1.2), he tells us. His football tactics are sort of like his manners: he just plows into stuff with no regard for whether or not someone else gets hurt.

Even as a 6-year-old boy, it's clear that Crash has some real anger management issues. When his neighbor, Penn, refuses to play water guns, Crash "stomped and stomped on [his water gun] till it was green plastic splinters" (4.20). Well, then.

As the hissy fit continues, he gets up in Penn's face: "I stared. I dared him to blink first. I wanted to hate him, I wanted to stay mad, but I was having problems" (4.21). In fact, Crash puts a lot of effort into trying to stay mad at Penn for, oh, the next seven years.

And for a long time, this more or less works.

Material Boy

Apart from football, Crash's main interests are money and the stuff it can buy. To paraphrase Madonna, he is living in a material world, and he is a material girl. (Yeah, yeah, we know. But "boy" doesn't rhyme.)

He's also obsessed with his appearance. On the first day of seventh grade, he tells us, "I'd say one-quarter is checking out other kids' clothes, and three-quarters is showing off your own. Your new sneaks, your labels. Talking prices" (9.4). So, apparently, Crash is not the only superficial jerk in town. Good to know.

At a school dance, Crash spends as much time bragging about his own appearance as he does checking out the girls. "I knew I was looking good," he says. "I wore my new shirt for the first time. My mother had taken the price tag off, but I saw a shirt just like it at the mall. It's worth about ten pan pizzas" (22.12).

Ah, to be young and measure wealth in terms of pizza. We have to wonder, though: what was that shirt worth in fries?

Moment of Truth

Luckily for Crash, sometimes life offers up a lesson so obvious that someone like him can't ignore it. The moment comes after his beloved grandfather has a stroke.

Crash's best friend, Mike, is over, messing around with Scooter's stuff and generally being disrespectful. Meanwhile, good, old Penn stops by to drop off what is literally his most prized possession: some healing mud from the Missouri River. It's for Scooter.

Like the Grinch, Crash's heart grows three sizes that day.

Soon after that, he starts clashing with Mike and sticking up for Penn. By the end of the novel, he's a bona fide good person, performing selfless acts like letting Penn win a big, important race. Also? He's slowly learning to worry less about how many pizzas his outfits are worth. He even spends the cash he's been saving for new sneaks on a special gift for his mom.

He may not be a saint like his new best friend, Penn, but he's getting pretty dang close.

John "Crash" Coogan in Crash Study Group

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