One night, having had some milk tea right before bed (wrong decision) and also reading The Underground Railroad past bedtime (a good decision), I could not sleep. I’m not sure why, but my heart was beating too fast and I felt anxious. Maybe it was the tea. So I went to the kids’ bookshelf and picked up a book I had not yet read to maybe distract me and calm me down.
John “Crash” Coogan is a typical boys’ boy. His parents are busy working and the only time his father notices him is when he succeeds in sports. He is a bit of a dumb jock stereotype. When Penn Webb moves in next door, he unfortunately turns into a dumb jock bully stereotype. Penn and his family are a bit strange. Then, Mike moves in next door and he is an even bigger dumb jock than Crash, and an even bigger bully. Naturally, Mike becomes Crash’s new best friend and Penn is ostracized and occasionally made fun off by the popular, sporty kids. However, in Seventh Grade, certain circumstances and events cause Crash to re-examine not only his treatment of Penn, but life and his attitude, in general.
I enjoyed previous Spinelli books like Manic McGee and Stargirl and this is sort of the same, I guess. There is an outsider who becomes an impetus for the protagonist (and sometimes the whole town) to change. While the previous books have a magical realist feel, this one feels more down to earth, realistic and smaller, Maybe that’s because it’s for a younger audience and is shorter.
I found it interesting that the protagonist in this book is not necessarily the good guy. Most kids books would have the outsider, the introverted, smart bookworm as the main character. In another book, Penn Webb would be the main character. Maybe it’s a smart choice because most kids are not going to be the “weird” kid. Most are just “regular” kids, some even meatheads. And a main character like that, but showing that they can be all that, but still be able to change for the good to be a kinder person, is pretty great. However, I feel that this one is too much from Crash’s perspective. I am interested in knowing more about Penn and his internal life and not just the pushover good guy as he is seen from Crash’s point of view.
All in all, a pretty good children’s’ book and yes, I was sable to go to sleep after.