57 pages 1 hour read

Jerry Spinelli


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1996

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Summary and Study Guide


Crash is a novel for middle-grade readers by Jerry Spinelli that traces the adventures of Crash Coogan, a seventh-grade athlete who evolves from a bully to become best friends with one of his victims.

Jerry Spinelli has written three dozen books for children. He’s a winner of both the Newbery Award and a Newbery Honor. Two of his books have been adapted for television, including the New York Times bestselling novel, Stargirl. With his wife, book illustrator Eileen Mesi Spinelli, he has seven children and 21 grandchildren.

The eBook version of the original 1996 edition of Crash forms the basis for this study guide.

Plot Summary

Crash Coogan crashes into everything. As a little boy, wearing a football helmet, he greets his cousin by tackling her, sending her sprawling. He likes to dig holes in the front yard and use the dirt to bury his mother’s flowers.

Crash meets a new neighbor, Penn Webb, and tries to bully him, but Penn is unflappable and wants to befriend Crash. Reluctantly, Crash visits Penn’s family for dinner, where they’re nice to him but feed him a vegetarian meal that he objects to. Penn has only one toy and no TV, but he’s very happy living with his warm and caring parents, which bothers Crash. Thereafter, Crash ignores Penn’s invitations until he gives up.

Years later, in seventh grade, Crash and his friend Mike try to tease Penn, but again, Penn is calm and forgiving. Crash tries to flirt with Jane Forbes, the cute new girl at school, but she ignores him. He and Mike fill Penn’s shoes with mustard and Jane helps Penn clean them.

At home, Crash and his lively sister, Abby, must feed themselves while their parents work late. Their parents always arrive exhausted, and Crash barely gets any personal time with them. Abby becomes friends with Penn, who shares her love for animals and nature. Like him, she becomes a vegetarian and joins a protest against the construction of a new mall.

Crash and Mike join the football team, and Crash, playing his best in case his parents show up to watch. He scores six touchdowns in the first game. As the crowd roars, he notices cheerleader Jane glaring at him. His parents never show, but Penn’s parents attend and cheer the team and their son, a cheerleader. Crash hates this.

After the game, Crash walks home and smells someone cooking in his neighborhood. He thinks about how he wishes he could eat with the family cooking the food and is surprised to learn the smell is coming from his own home. Crash comes home to find Scooter, Crash’s favorite relative and grandfather, in the kitchen cooking. Scooter has come to live with the family. He’s a great cook, attends Crash’s football games, and, each night, tells adventure stories to Crash and Abby.

Crash continues to lead the football team’s victory. At a school social event, he tries to dance with Jane Forbes, but she refuses. He grabs her hand and pulls, and she kicks him in the leg and says he’s the biggest jerk she’s ever met. Penn shows up with an anti-mall T-shirt for Jane that she promptly puts on. Penn adds that he reserved a T-shirt for Abby as well. Crash shoves Penn against a wall and warns him to keep away from his family. Penn dances with Jane, and Crash knocks into him so that Penn slides across the dance floor. Crash gets suspended and grounded, but he thinks it’s worth it.

On Thanksgiving, Crash’s family plays two-hand tag football in the backyard, and Crash accidentally tackles Scooter, his grandfather, and sends him sprawling. Crash’s father scolds him. As he learns what he did, Crash’s mom finds his football laundry bag, forgotten and stinking, and empties it out on the ground. A mouse escapes from it, and Crash realizes he’s been toting the mouse for months. Abby tries to herd the rodent to a pile of wood she’s brought to the backyard—she wants to build a wildlife sanctuary there—but her father makes her remove the wood. In its place, she puts an old dollhouse.

Three weeks after Thanksgiving, Scooter has a stroke. Waiting day after day for news from the hospital, Crash decides he hates the boring white lights and teddy bears on his family’s Christmas tree. The Webbs drop by to visit, but Crash hangs back, surly.

The day before Christmas, Crash realizes he hasn’t bought Scooter a gift, as if assuming his granddad will die. Panicked, he rushes into town and buys the first thing he sees: a pair of red high-heeled shoes with ribbons and glitter. Christmas Day is packed with gifts, but Crash feels gloomy because of Scooter’s health issues and hospitalization.

In the new year, Crash refuses to join Mike in tormenting Penn. He begins to help Abby with her backyard nature project. Scooter returns home. He can barely walk or talk, so Crash and Abby reverse roles with Scooter and begin telling him stories at night.

The Penn Relays approach, and both Crash and Penn Webb try out. Crash wins all the early trials, but Penn always takes second. During the final tryout, Crash notices Henry, Penn’s great-grandfather, watching. Henry once ran in the Penn Relays, for which Penn is named. Penn loves his grandfather, and Crash realizes Henry is Penn’s version of Scooter. He decides to honor Henry and Scooter by throwing the race so that Penn can go to the Penn Relays, and Henry can watch his grandson compete.

By summer, Abby’s backyard nature project is in full swing. After Scooter’s health scare, Mrs. Coogan cut back on work to spend more time with her family. Crash and Penn have become best friends.

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