“We all stood up, and Obie stood up with the twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures, and the judge walked in with a seeing-eye dog. He sat down, we sat down. Obie looked at the seeing-eye dog, and then at the twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one. And he began to cry ‘cause Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of American blind justice, and there wasn’t nothing he could do about it, and the judge wasn’t going to look at the twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures, with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was, to be used as evidence against us. “And we was fined fifty dollars and had to pick up the garbage in the snow. “But that’s not what I came to tell you about. “Came to talk about the draft.” -- Arlo Guthrie, from “Alice’s Restaurant”
What has long come to mind when I think Thanksgiving – beyond Arlo playing those repeating bars from Alice’s Restaurant – is Denys Cazet’s zany MINNIE AND MOO AND THE THANKSGIVING TREE. This year, thanks to my fondness for Melissa Sweet’s amazing BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY: THE TRUE STORY OF THE PUPPETEER OF MACY’S PARADE (and thanks to my first east coast Thanksgiving in 25 years), I am seriously considering – for the first time in my life – actually heading into the City and experiencing the Parade live. But from now on, when I think of Thanksgiving, I am also going to be fondly recalling the unforgettable Thanksgiving in CRASH AND BURN when David Burnett, his mother, and his sister Roxanne come to the Crashinsky home for what turns out to a truly…err…memorable Thanksgiving dinner. And I am really hoping that when we get to Thanksgiving 2013, there will be a whole bunch of you out there with whom I can share insider jokes and recollections of the events that take place in this grand slam of a YA novel.
“PlayStation had a new game that was, in fact, the best game ever, a game that I would become closely identified with. “The game in question had come out a few months before and was about a red and brown, two legged dog-thing that kept running and running and running and running, jumping over ditches, spinning around turtles, popping on them, sending them hurling into space, and then running while being chased by humongous boulders and having to jump over pits, while spinning thorough crates and breaking things, never stopping, except to get an oingaboinga and otherwise stop and you’re dead.
“Everything in the game mirrored exactly how I felt every single day of my life, while teachers and others tried so hard to sit me down and keep me still, even though I was spinning; while they were giving me my ADD medicine to try and stop my constant need to move, and to stop me from trying to break free from my chair and the room and the school. Letters on the chalkboard, words in a book, and all I could think of, all I could keep feeling, was get out.”
Meet teenager Steven “Crash” Crashinsky, who has long struggled with ADHD, but who has now become a national hero for having successfully defused his heavily-armed classmate David “Burn” Burnett when the troubled young man took their entire high school hostage. “He was also proving to be the supergenius that everyone said he was, getting perfect scores on standardized tests and acing his courses, breezing through the work and correcting teachers whenever they said something that he considered to be inaccurate, knowing all these minute details about virtually everything, like he was constantly preparing for a test that only he knew he was taking.”
Meet David “Burn” Burnett, who is bipolar and also suffers from depression and anxiety. And he’s already like this BEFORE his father is dusted in the North Tower on 9/11. These two young men, Crash and Burn, have a long intertwining personal history and, in this amazing first-person narrative, we get to re-live their decade of interactions, beginning all the way back in second grade and passing through that aforementioned middle school-era disaster of a Thanksgiving dinner. Told from the perspective of Steven Crashinsky, CRASH AND BURN is a story about story as Crash struggles during the summer after high school to tame his attention deficit in the midst of chaos and focus on writing the book about himself and Burn for which he has been given a lucrative contract. (He ’s already partying in the BMW that was part of the deal.)
CRASH AND BURN is an irreverent, profane, and incredibly profound guy read of the first order. I am blown away by the manner in which -- amidst jaw-dropping scenes of wild debauchery, family disintegrations, and (very) private tutoring sessions, which are all pretty darn entertaining – we come to know so intimately the excruciatingly personal struggles of these two young guys who are each grappling with serious conditions relating to brain chemistry -- conditions that are all too common in the twenty-first century and which the medical community still doesn’t have a handle on. Some might get their panties all twisted in a knot over the language, drug use, casual sex, and other less-than-stellar behavior that we find throughout this book.
But, in revealing so honestly the struggles faced by so many young people like Steven and David, I’m telling you that CRASH AND BURN is every bit as important in fostering understanding and acceptance of others as are all of those great books about, for instance, middle-eastern characters or black characters or gay characters that we promote and give awards to with the hopes of getting kids to look beyond their own noses and neighborhoods and understand/accept people who are different. “’And she said, if you have any trouble with him. Any real trouble, tell him this. Tell him “Roxanne said that you can’t make a fox into a dog no matter how hard you try. A fox is always a fox. And in the end, you have to let them go.”’” Gosh, it’s going to take me a while to let go of the realization that David Burnett is only a book character and is not really locked up in a facility somewhere. But, then again, these characters are so real, in part, because we all know damned well that they represent plenty of kids in the real world who are dealing with this sort of stuff every day and are one AK-47 away from creating a news event.
Now, getting back to Thanksgiving… “And the only reason I'm singing you this song now is ‘cause you may know somebody in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if you’re in a situation like that there's only one thing you can do and that's walk into the shrink wherever you are, just walk in and say ‘Shrink. You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant.’" --Arlo Guthrie This Thanksgiving, I want to express how thankful I am for being associated with all of you who play a role in bringing literature to children and teens. Whether you are in a library or a classroom or a bookstore or in those fancy publisher digs or you are an author at a laptop or an artist in a studio, or a parent trying to do right by your kid, I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be part of your world. Happy Thanksgiving and Give Peace a Chance. 544 pages ISBN: 978-0-06-211290-3
Recommended by: Richie Partington, Librarian, California USA Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com