Study Guide

Crash Themes

By Jerry Spinelli

  • Violence and Aggression

    Our boy Crash—the main character in Crash—is an extremely intense young dude. His motto is totally "Hulk smash!" On or off the football field, he loves to tackle people. Oh, what's that you say? You're a girl? Sorry, chica, you're still going down. And if you think your grandpa is getting a pass just because he's old and frail, well, you've got another think coming.

    In Crash's world, even poor, old Penn, a Quaker who wears a button that says "peace," is basically asking for it. Do you think Crash was just born mad? Or is something else going on?

    Questions About Violence and Aggression

    1. Who's the biggest bully in the book? Explain your answer.
    2. At what point does Crash decide to stop bullying Penn? What's the reason behind his decision?
    3. Why does Crash tackle Scooter?

    Chew on This

    Crash is a book that portrays bullies as silly and wrongheaded.

    Crash is aggressive because he doesn't know how to deal with his feelings.

  • Men and Masculinity

    Crash is a dude's dude. A bro, even. He's a stereotypical football player who loves to get in fights and mock the weak. He thinks he's God's gift to women, football, and maybe just the world in general. You know the type.

    On the other end of the spectrum, we have Penn, who's into nonviolence and cheerleading. He's the object of a lot of teasing in Crash because of it, but on some level, our main character—ahem, Crash—seems to really be afraid. He says some pretty mean things about Penn, but the novel's positioning of Crash as a bad guy means that we're supposed to question his rudeness, not endorse it.

    Questions About Men and Masculinity

    1. Who seems the most secure in their masculinity: Crash or Penn? Explain your answer.
    2. Crash and his father come down pretty hard on Penn for being a cheerleader. Are their views sexist? Homophobic? Both? Neither? Explain your answer.
    3. What similarities do you see between Mr. Coogan and Scooter?

    Chew on This

    Crash's characterization upholds gender stereotypes surrounding men and masculinity.

    Penn's characterization busts gender stereotypes surrounding men and masculinity.

  • Women and Femininity

    Crash seems to have a mixed message when it comes to women and homemaking. On one hand, the book's female characters don't conform to traditional gender roles. Mrs. Coogan is not the cook in her family. (That would be Scooter, Crash's grandfather.) Crash's sister, Abby, couldn't care less about clothes, and it's her brother who's afraid of mice.

    Mrs. Coogan works just as hard outside of the home as her husband until the end of the book, when she dramatically cuts her hours so she'll have more time with her family. Seems like it could have been more interesting—and more in line with the book's message—if Mr. Coogan had cut his hours instead. Especially since he's trying to start a business while Mrs. C already seems pretty established in hers. 

    But who knows? Maybe he makes the big bucks, and it's easier for her to cut back. What do you think?

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. What does Jane Forbes' character suggest about what women want (or don't want)?
    2. Abby loves creepy-crawly things. In what other ways is she not a stereotypical girl?
    3. What do you make of Abby's friendship with Penn? Why do you think she likes him?

    Chew on This

    Mrs. Coogan's and Abby's characterizations bust stereotypes surrounding women and femininity.

    Mrs. Coogan's and Abby's characterizations uphold stereotypes surrounding women and femininity.

  • Family

    In Crash, the one thing that Penn and Crash have in common is their dedication to their families. These guys love their parents but, for each of them, their primary support person is someone from their extended family. For Penn, it's his great-grandfather Henry. For Crash, it's Scooter.

    Penn seems to get a lot more quality time with his parents than Crash does since his parents work all the time. It's an open question whether or not that's what makes Penn the better adjusted of the two boys. What's your take?

    Questions About Family

    1. Penn seems to share a lot of values with his parents. Do you think Crash's values come from Mr. and Mrs. Coogan? Why or why not?
    2. Why is Scooter so important to Crash?
    3. Which character seems to value his or her family the most? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    Crash is a novel about traditional family values.

    Crash is a novel about modern family values.

  • Wealth and Materialism

    Crash is weird in that he's really into stuff like clothes and toys, but at the same time, he doesn't seem to care about that at all. Early in the novel, when Penn won't play with water guns, Crash stomps his own toy to bits.

    You would think that someone who's so materialistic wouldn't want to destroy his own stuff. But for Crash, his pleasure has very little to do with the stuff itself; it's about how the act of owning things—and other people seeing him own things—makes him feel.

    Throughout Crash, we see that material things make Crash feel powerful and fulfilled because he's not getting those feelings from other areas of his life. By the same token, Crash's insults about Penn's tiny house can't hurt Penn because he doesn't need a big house to feel fulfilled. That need is satisfied by his loving family.

    Questions About Wealth and Materialism

    1. Who seems more materialistic: Crash or Mike? Why?
    2. Compare and contrast Crash's and Abby's values.
    3. Why is Crash so caught up in labels and price tags?

    Chew on This

    Crash is a novel about the emptiness of shopping and consumerism.

    Crash doesn't say that shopping itself is a problem—it's more that people put too much emphasis on labels.

  • Language and Communication

    Crash is a novel about the difficulty of communicating with other people.

    For Scooter, this problem is literal. After his stroke, he can only say one word, and that one word is gibberish. And yet, people still seem to understand him, more or less.

    Crash, on the other hand, has tons of words to use, but his emotions are so confusing that he has a hard time articulating them. Similarly, the gestures he uses to express those emotions make no sense at all. He grabs Penn's button and then hands it right back to him. He leaves a meatball on the Webb family's porch.

    Like "a-bye," Scooter's word, when Crash tries to express himself, it comes out as nonsense.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. Which character is the best communicator? Explain your answer.
    2. There are two examples of Penn's writing in the book. What are they? What do they tell us about him?
    3. What makes Scooter such a good storyteller?

    Chew on This

    Crash is about the perils of communication.

    Crash is about the importance of finding an effective way to communicate with others.

  • Friendship

    Crash is a love story of sorts, just not a romantic one. Instead, it's a portrait of platonic friendship. Crash has two close friends over the course of the novel. The first is Mike, with whom he has a lot in common. The second is Penn, who's about as different as he can be.

    At first, Crash is drawn to what he knows. Over time, though, he realizes that maybe Mike is actually a nightmare person. Crash asks himself some hard questions about what a friend should or shouldn't be—and becomes a better person in the process.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. What is the greatest act of friendship in the book? Explain your answer.
    2. Compare and contrast Crash's two friends, Penn and Mike.
    3. What lesson does Crash learn about friendship?

    Chew on This

    From the first time they met, Crash secretly liked Penn. It just takes him a long time to admit it.

    Crash didn't like Penn at all when they met. Penn grows on him very slowly over time.

  • Change

    Many characters in Crash go through serious upheaval over the course of the novel, while other characters don't change at all. The big transformations happen to Scooter and Crash. Scooter loses a lot of his abilities after his stroke. Crash, on the other hand, gains something: a new understanding of what's really important.

    You know how sometimes people change their minds about what's important in life after a near-death experience? That's sort of what happens to Crash, except the near-death experience was Scooter's, not his own.

    Questions About Change

    1. Which character changes the most over the course of the novel? Explain your answer.
    2. Why does Mrs. Coogan feel the need to change her work schedule?
    3. Compare and contrast Scooter before and after his stroke. What has changed? What has stayed the same?

    Chew on This

    In the world of Crash, change is a positive thing.

    In the world of Crash, change is a negative thing.