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Crash and Burn by Michael Hassan

Crash and Burn by Michael Hassan

Crash and Burn

By: Michael Hassan

Release Date: February 19, 2013

Rating: 3 Stars

Summary: On April 21, 2008, Steven “Crash” Crashinsky saved more than a thousand people when he stopped his classmate David Burnett from taking their high school hostage armed with assault weapons and high-powered explosives. You likely already know what came after for Crash: the nationwide notoriety, the college recruitment, and, of course, the book deal. What you might not know is what came before: a story of two teens whose lives have been inextricably linked since grade school, who were destined, some say, to meet that day in the teachers’ lounge of Meadows High. And what you definitely don’t know are the words that Burn whispered to Crash right as the siege was ending, a secret that Crash has never revealed.

Until now.

Michael Hassan’s shattering novel is a tale of first love and first hate, the story of two high school seniors and the morning that changed their lives forever. It’s a portrait of the modern American teenage male, in all his brash, disillusioned, oversexed, schizophrenic, drunk, nihilistic, hopeful, ADHD-diagnosed glory. And it’s a powerful meditation on how normal it is to be screwed up, and how screwed up it is to be normal


I haven’t been this conflicted over a book since Libba Bray’s The Diviners – and for pretty much the same reasons. Crash and Burn is definitely something that I wouldn’t hesitate to call indisputably well conceived and written, yet at the same time, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t aspects to Michael Hassan’s debut novel that didn’t bother me. Don’t get me wrong, I for one totally appreciate how Hassan’s written an incisive contemporary that really speaks to me as a twentysomething guy and needless to say totally loved the concept behind and writing of the book, but Crash’s narration also struck me as excessively long, convoluted, and just dragged on and on and on. So my status after reading this? It’s complicated.

I know the length and style is a conscious decision on Hassan’s part – Crash getting a book deal to sell his story’s used as a framing device to explore not only his character but also the character of his – close acquaintance? not quite friend? frenemy? something? – Burn (yeah, it’s a complicated relationship… no, of course it is) and is fine on its own, but add to that Crash’s ADHD and his tendency to tell the story in a massive spew of information, current relevance be damned, and I just couldn’t make heads or tails of a lot of things for most of the book. I certainly wasn’t bored – even though the majority of the story is about Crash and not about what Burn does or why he does it, Crash’s language and flippant style and attitude towards drugs and getting laid definitely is the kind of (crass) male point of view that I’ve sorely missed after reading so many female young adult authors trying their hands and failing at coming up with a relatable guy narrator, and – yeah, guys are crass. Sorry. And it works too because I’m pretty sure only a male author would know to include a constant stream of nineties pop culture and gaming references that brings back so many fond memories. Take for example the origin of the nickname Crash (you may be thinking Stephen Crashinsky, duh, but…):

The one thing was: 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 through crates and breaking things, never stopping, except to get an oingaboinga and otherwise stop and you’re dead.

I guess it takes a certain kind of reader to ‘get’ Crash, to understand why a guy would identify with Crash Bandicoot, but I swear, it’s a brilliant take on a brilliant character.

Unfortunately, not everything hits right away like the double meaning behind Crash’s nickname – the point of Crash’s relationship with Burn’s sister Roxanne for example eluded me for most of the book. Or everything with Crash’s friends, Christina, and Claudia. In retrospect, not only should I have seen what happens to Roxanne coming, but it works (and hits like a ton of bricks when it does) because I didn’t see it coming and it was so unexpected and unexpectedly written – especially with how it pertains to the hook of the book, the secret Burn shares with Crash when he takes the school hostage. Still, the way Hassan does it, I was still left grasping for straws through most of the book trying to figure out Roxanne’s role, and I guess I just feel Hassan takes too long getting to a point where everything makes sense. And even now that I’ve made sense of it all, I still feel while I understand Crash’s character quite well, maybe even completely, I don’t think I fully understand Burn. It’s obvious he’s always been disturbed, Crash makes that quite clear with the nickname and the fox incident and his constant paranoia at Burn doing things, but I’m trying to figure out if Hassan’s saying a combination of Burn’s father dying on September 11, his mother dying of cancer, and then what happens to Roxanne pushes him over the edge… and I guess I see it but it feels sort of flimsy for what he ultimately does. Maybe because there are still connections, like Christina, that I feel are still outstanding, and it seems like even Crash’s sister Lindsey gets a better lesson out of what happened to Roxanne.

Really surprisingly, the most interesting part (at least for me) ofCrash and Burn isn’t Crash’s relationship with Burn, which is kind of hit or miss with some great scenes like the poker game or the Thanksgiving dinner but a lot of filler as well, but another tangential part of the story, Crash’s relationship with his father Jacob Crashinsky. Parental hypocrisy is not a topic that’s usually covered in young adult, and rarely well, so the entire storyline with Crash’s father disapproving of his marijuana use while himself using marijuana was… really hilarious. See this exchange about getting high while high:

Newsguy: “So then are you advocating that people with ADD smoke marijuana?”
Me: “No, I’m not whatever-you-call-it for anything. Look, I’m just an eighteen-year-old kid looking to have a little fun in my last summer before college. Clearly, those pictures show a few people having a good time. When was the last time you had a good time?”
Newsguy: “This isn’t about me.”
Me: “Yeah, but when was the last time you smoked weed? The truth. If you’re gonna ask me that, then don’t I have a right to know about you?”
Newsguy (definitely uncomfortable, so I’m thinking maybe I got him and he can be the news story instead of me): “Steven, what I’m hearing from you is that you’re making light of your use of what is currently an illegal substance. And that while you began this interview with apologies, it seems that you are unrepentant.”
Me: “Actually, it seems to me that you are making a big deal out of nothing. Like every kid, virtually every kid in my high school, has gotten high from time to time. And it’s just not in my school, it’s every school throughout the country. And it’s every college. And it’s probably every office and business too. If you polled the people around us right now, like probably half of them are still getting high. Probably even you, like I said before. Even my father still smokes weed now and then. Even at his age. So why are we making such a big deal out of these pictures?”
OK, here there is a superlong pause. Long enough to fit an entire commercial between what I just said and the next sentence.
Newsguy: “Are you saying that your father smokes marijuana? How do you know this?”
As soon as the newsguy repeated what I said, I know that I have just gone too far, and I know there’s no turning back. I know immediately that this is worse than totaling my car or burning down the house, this is worse than getting arrested for some major crime. This is Bad, with a capital “B,” as in bringing Jacob into this is a mistake that I know I will be living with for a very, very long time. I have nothing left to say this guy, this motherfucker who ambushed me with kindness and a chocolate shake.
Newsguy: “Steven, how do you know this?”
Me: “Same way I know you smoke weed. It’s in your eyes.”

Let’s just say I don’t know where else I would ever read a kid discovering his father’s pot stash, nicknaming it Jacob’s Gold, and then raving about it whenever he takes a hit, but it’s definitely a highlight of this book.

The problem though is that the parts of the book I liked aren’t necessarily the parts that are needed to make Crash and Burnwork. And that’s my problem, too much about Crash being Crash and not enough about Crash and Burn.

Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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