Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Steven Crashinsky -- Crash -- saved his entire school by convincing long-time peer David Burnett -- Burn -- to stop his plans on taking everyone hostage.
This is the story of Crash stopping Burn. It's the story of just what Crash said to Burn to get him to change his mind.
Crash and Burn is told from Crash's perspective, but it's not entirely linear. Crash received a book contract to tell the story of stopping Burn. So, really, this is the book Crash wrote about what happened, interspersed with chapters about what's going on in the present, post-hostage standoff. It's the struggle Crash works through in writing the story in the most honest way possible. And it's a struggle, sure, when you're telling a story that begins in elementary school. Because that's where it all began -- Crash and Burn had known each other for a long time. They were never friends. But they ran in similar circles. Crash had a major crush on Burn's sister Roxanne. Burn told Crash if he was with Roxanne, he'd be in deep.
Of course, Crash had been with Roxanne and it was everything he hoped for and more.
But let me back up a second.
Crash has ADD. Burn has it too, though he has the hyperactive side of it going against him too. Burn is brilliant, by Crash's records. At least when he applies himself, Burn can be so smart. That's why his entire hostage set up is so scary to Crash. He knows the power Burn has when he puts his mind to something.
One of the effects of the ADD is, of course, that Crash's story telling is a little all over. It's not impossible to follow, but the time jumps make sense in the context of his mental state.
Crash and Burn, when they met, found themselves in trouble quickly. And the trouble that Burn seemed to cause around Crash never subsided. It did disappear for a while, though, when Burn moved away from Westchester. But Burn moves back after his father died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. He's at a loss, of course. Even though Burn doesn't admit to his feelings, they're obvious. They're obvious to Crash as an outsider, as well as obvious to him through what he figures out through Roxanne. Burn does a lot of driving and a lot of giving himself distance. He likes to slip away.
It only gets worse, though, when Burn's mother dies. He becomes more withdrawn. More problematic, too, when he is present.
In the interm of this is Crash's story. Crash needed tutoring, and it was Roxanne who helped him. But it wasn't just his classroom education. Crash learns a lot about love and feelings and, well, sex. He knows if Burn knew about this, he'd never hear or feel the end of it. That's why it's secret. It's also part of why he and Roxanne have to call it off. Crash was becoming too dependent upon what Roxanne was giving him. Trouble was around the corner.
Also peppering Crash's own story is the breakup of his parents' marriage. This came at the hands of Burn, in a way. During Thanksgiving dinner when Burn was invited over (Crash's mom and Burn's mom were friends when she was alive), Burn keeps hinting that Crash's father was getting really friendly with his foreign female friend. They were indeed friendly. They were, how to say, more than friendly. From there, the divorce comes down, and Crash's father ends up eventually marrying this woman. While this was hard enough on Crash, what makes it harder is seeing that, despite his father's actions, he's still successful. He's still rich. Crash bemoans that because of who he is, because of his ADD and because he's not all that smart, he'll never have what his dad has. This eats him alive inside.
Then there's the partying. All kinds of partying. Drugs. Booze. Sex. Dating and sleeping with multiple girls. Hurting feelings. This is Crash's story. It's part of why he feels he'll never be a success.
He just can't have Roxanne.
It's impossible not to spoil the story here, so, be warned. Burn's been on the brink of self-destruction since the death of his mother, but it was in 2007 when Roxanne died. When she killed herself. That's when Burn's real unraveling happened.
That's also when Crash's real unraveling happened, too.
Both boys, both suffering from diagnoses, are in bad places. Crash is a good guy. He really is. But he gets messed up with bad things and now that his favorite person in the world is gone, he can't pull himself together. Burn, despite his behavior, is a good guy deep inside. He's just wounded. He's suffering grief and loss in a way that's impossible to understand. Crash doesn't try to, either. He can't. Even as both are now suffering a shared loss, it's for different reasons. It is, ultimately, what unites them.
Crash and Burn is impressive in what it tackles. This is, if I can be so grand, the ultimate story of being a teen boy in today's world. Crash and Burn were both impacted by 9/11. Crash and Burn are both impacted by their diagnoses. They're both struggling to make sense of themselves in this world. Both boys, in a way, fall through the cracks. They deal with non-traditional home lives. They deal with loss on many levels. Interspersed throughout the story -- again, remember, it's told through Crash's perspective in the style of his own book writing voice -- are pop culture references, references to video games and movies and television. While it's distracting and makes for a lengthier-than-necessary story, they do in some ways ground the story. They give it relevance, at least for today's readers. What makes this story further the story of today's teen boy is how much the challenge lies in what is and isn't permissible on an interpersonal level. These boys are so isolated from everyone around them, and they're incredible isolated from themselves. This comes through in how they interact with others and when they're spending time alone. It's when Crash starts driving at night to "get away" that this makes sense to him. That the pieces of Burn click together.
So what is it that Crash did to stop Burn's plans? Spoiler here, so skip to the next paragraph if you don't want it. Burn admits to Crash that he watched Roxanne die. He walked in on her still being alive after overdosing, and rather than do anything -- call the police, call his aunt, shake her to her senses -- Burn walks out of the room. He lets her die. Obviously, her death is not in any way her fault. But it impacts him profoundly. He loved her dearly. She was his rock when they lost their parents. And now that she was making money by doing really questionable things and now that it was leading her to her death. Burn simply couldn't deal. When Crash hears this, he does the thing that both boys needed: he hugs Burn. They embrace. They hold each other. There is sheer physical intimacy, contact, kindness, care. They're reaching out to one another and understanding one another as human beings who are aching and need that kind of comfort. Being pressured by the world to be boys, they never felt comfortable looking or asking for that. And here they are, allowing themselves the thing they most need. True human care. Hassan does a remarkable job bringing the story together here and showcasing the depth of Crash and Burn. I believed every second of this, and I thought it was the seal on what made Crash and Burn the book of today's teen boy.
While what the story achieves is noteworthy, it does suffer under sheer bulk. Hassan's choice to make this a narrative through Crash's writing a book setup feels gimmicky, especially with the ADD aspect. It allows for some lazy storytelling and it allows for some serious self-indulgence on Crash's part. He is a good kid. But he fixates on his bad stuff (as people tend to do -- it's human nature) and he spends an awful lot of time talking about pop culture in a way that is uninteresting to a reader. In conjunction with the sheer time frame that the book covers -- elementary through the end of high school -- it makes the 540 pages tough to get through at times. While it's a swifter read, it's hefty. It covers so much in terms of content that the extras splashed throughout could have been whittled out to no loss of the story. And while this is a small criticism, I found the overuse of "C" names for female characters challenging as a reader. It's clear this is done because, for the most part, they don't matter to Crash. They all kind of blend together anyway. But as a reader, again, I felt cheated here, much in the way I felt cheated in the storytelling choice. Reading something of this length makes me want more depth as a reward to making it through.
Crash and Burn is going to appeal to male readers, no doubt about it. I do think there will be trouble selling this, though, to more reluctant readers because of sheer size. This is unfortunate because those are the readers who will see themselves in Crash and in Burn. Both boys are thoroughly developed and have complete and engaging arcs. They aren't two separate halves. They aren't opposites. They are much the same. They complement one another, despite being antagonists throughout their lives.
Michael Hassan's debut isn't just about the hostage situation. It's not just about living in a post-9/11 world. It's not just about broken boys and broken families. It's not just about grieving and losing and fighting. It's not just about mental health or slipping between the cracks or about how people don't tell each other enough about how much they matter. It's about all of this, and it's about much more. Try this out on readers who have read all of Ellen Hopkins's books and are ready for something new.
As I stated at the beginning, Crash and Burn is epic. What readers will walk away with at the end is knowing a hero and his entire journey.
Crash and Burn will be available February 19 from HarperTeen. Review copy received from the publisher.