by Leslie Connor
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I was so smitten with Perry T. Cook that I’m now officially on a Leslie Connor kick. Crunch tells the story of 14-year-old Dewey Marriss and his four siblings: oldest sister Lil, younger brother Vince, and 5-year-old twins, who are left to run the house and their family’s bike repair business one summer. There is a fuel crunch, stranding people everywhere, including their parents, and making bikes suddenly invaluable. The Bike Barn goes into overdrive and for a while they really can handle things. But things start to go missing and business really ramps up and soon Dewey is over his head, and Lil too. Lil refuses help from well-meaning neighbors and friends until they reach a breaking point.
This is a really satisfying story, at least while Dewey has things under control. I love a job that is very tangible – you can count the number of bikes you’ve fixed and gotten back to customers; you can count the cash in your tin can “register” at the end of the day. The three older siblings really get a taste of adult life this summer and are quite mature – until they’re not. When things get tough, they fall apart like the kids they are, and it feels really realistic. [Spoiler: the parents come home just in time, but the kids do figure out who’s taking their stuff. There’s a new adult friend in their life that I have to admit I was suspicious of being some sort of bad influence, but who turned out okay.]
I also liked that the premise was very believable, and explored the repercussions of an energy crisis. The image of people walking and biking the highway will stick with me a long time. Dewey and Lil’s resourcefulness reminded me of such classic characters as Dicey Tillerman of Homecoming / Dicey’s Song and Francie Nolan of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Because of the prominence of bicycles in the story, it’s unclear when this is supposed to take place: the 1970’s, now, the future? Again, classic.