One of the running jokes I have with my students goes something like this. I’ll say, “You know it’s young adult fiction when the mother is…” They answer in unison, “Dead.” We sometimes continue, running through the many other elements – divorced parents, alcoholic fathers, messed up older siblings, etc. My students are observant. Nothing gets by them. But they often wonder why authors do this. It’s simple. Authors either completely take the parents out of the story equation or divert their focus to other places in the story so the protagonist can be on her own. When you take the adults out of the picture, the kids have to step up. It’s an author’s answer to today’s helicopter parents.
Leslie Connor’s Crunch follows this formula perfectly. Dewey and his four siblings live a humble, yet idyllic, life. His father is a trucker and his mother stays at home with the kids. To supplement the family income, his father started The Bike Barn, a bicycle repair facility they run out of their back barn, for those times when trucking runs are few and far between. Once a year, though, Dewey’s mother accompanies his father on a trucking run. However, while making a run up the east coast, the country comes to a standstill when the gas pumps dry up. Bikes, the next best vehicle during a crisis of this sort, become even more important. And, when bikes are used more than normal, bikes break down at a higher rate. The gas “crunch” jettisons the family bike business into the stratosphere. Dewey, his brother, and a new acquaintance, Robert, must keep up with the demand for their repair skills in the face of skyrocketing bike part prices, lonely younger siblings, a grouchy neighbor, a controlling older sister, and mysteriously disappearing bike parts.
Connor has written another fabulous young adult novel. Her first, Waiting for Normal, followed the same formula; it took a single parent away through mental illness and put a young, female protagonist in the driver’s seat. Both novels also inject a healthy dose of social commentary, although Crunch is a bit more heavy-handed. Connor tempts readers to think about the repercussions of our dependence on gasoline and how society should respond in the face of such a crisis. I look forward to Connor’s next offering. I honestly did not want Crunch to end. There’s no higher complement for an author.