Tired of ads?
Join today and never see them again.
Crash Coogan doesn't like his new neighbor. Crash is the toughest 6-year-old in town, and the last thing he needs is some new kid being all nice to him for no reason. Penn Webb (said new kid) is from a happy family of "Flickertails," by which he means he and his parents are from North Dakota. He's hard not to like, but Crash manages.
Penn and his folks are always saying stuff about being Flickertails because they're weirdos. (Crash can tell because they don't own a TV.) Worse, Penn's sad toy collection consists of one wooden wagon and a tin filled with dirt. The latter is dried-up mud that was gathered by Penn's great-grandfather from the Missouri River, and it's supposed to have magical healing properties. It's Penn's most prized possession, but Crash is unimpressed.
Though the boys are kindergarten age when they first meet, the story flashes forward to seventh grade. Nothing much has changed, except now Crash has a partner in crime, Mike Deluca, to join him in being mean to Penn. Crash and Mike are football players who wear expensive clothes, and Penn is a cheerleader who wears stuff from the thrift store.
Take a wild guess who gets bullied. Here's a hint: it's not Crash or Mike.
At home, Crash is often on his own. He doesn't have much in common with his sister, Abby, who's into bugs and protesting the construction of malls, and his parents are always working. After the first football game of the season, which the Coogans don't bother to attend, Crash falls into a bit of a funk. It's lifted almost immediately when he comes home to find his beloved grandfather, Scooter, standing over a pot of stew in the kitchen. Scooter is moving in for good, and Crash couldn't be more thrilled.
But things don't stay fine and dandy, of course. After just a few months, something terrible happens: Scooter has a stroke. He goes to the hospital for a long time, and when he comes home, he's a shadow of his former self. He can't walk so well, and he no longer has the vocabulary to tell the imaginative stories he used to spin before bedtime. Mike doesn't give two hoots about this sad situation, but Penn gets it. He gets it so well, in fact, that he gifts Scooter his tin of miracle mud and wishes him a swift recovery.
Despite himself, Crash is touched by Penn's gesture. He no longer has it in him to be mean to his sweet neighbor. Inside, his priorities shift. For instance, instead of smoking Penn in a footrace at school—something he could accomplish without even trying—he lets Penn win.
The thing is, Crash knows how important that race is to his neighbor. Penn doesn't have a competitive bone in his body, but he wants to win it for his great-grandfather, who happens to be in town for a visit. Penn himself was named by his great-grandfather, who won the Penn Relays years and years ago. So it means the world to Penn and his great-grandfather to beat Crash this one time.
Meanwhile, back at home, Penn's gift seems to be working its magic: Scooter is walking a little better. Crash's home life is about to get less lonely, too, because his mom is cutting back on her hours at work. The final chapter fast-forwards to one year later, where we can see that everyone is doing well. Crash and Penn have become BFFs, of course.
What kind of monster doesn't love a Flickertail?