Review: ‘Crash and Burn’ is Darkly Funny, Emotionally Gripping

Most of us probably know someone like Steven “Crash” Crashinsky: hates school, loves to party, considers himself a player. And in the spring of his senior year, Crash becomes a celebrity when he manages to stop a disturbed classmate from blowing up the school in a massacre styled on Columbine. His heroism sends his popularity skyrocketing (especially among the ladies) and lands him a lucrative book deal to tell his story. So during the last summer before going off to college, while he is determined to live it up with his friends, he begins to recount his story. Since he first met the school attacker, David Burnett, in elementary school, the story must start there.

Between chapters that detail Crash’s exploits that final summer, we learn how he met “Burn,” his sometimes friend/rival/enemy who earned the nickname after an explosive incident when they were young. We come to understand that Burn has been diagnosed bipolar, among other things. He is a certified genius, but also, at times, certifiably insane. We meet Roxanne, Burn’s older sister, who wields sarcasm like a weapon and delves into some dark places in her struggle to deal with her brother’s issues. And we learn about Crash’s own problems: struggles in school because of ADHD, emotional abuse from a father who thinks he’s lazy and worthless, and a reliance on weed and “redcups” to cope with stress. As Crash tells his story, we get a unique glimpse into the minds of teenagers who are learning disabled, dealing with mental illness, disaffected from their families and society, and distracted by the temptations of sex, drugs and alcohol.

Written in the irreverent voice of most modern teenagers, Crash and Burn is at times darkly funny, emotionally gripping and violently tense. The characters’ bluntness about their fondness for, um, blunts — and girls and parties — makes them realistic. The plot about the school attack is, unfortunately, not that hard to believe. And while Crash is the story’s hero and Burn its villain, neither fits their label quite so easily. I found myself shaking my head at Crash when he uses yet another girlfriend or lights another joint, but ready to defend him from his heartless father. Burn does terrible things leading up to the school attack, but I also understood the feelings of helplessness that led him to some of those actions.

The final showdown at the school is intense. As the narrator, Crash at one point tells readers that he’s getting to the good stuff: “If this was a movie, this would be the time to put on your 3-D glasses. Also, if you want to go to the bathroom or if you want a snack, get it now. I’ll wait.” He’s right that once you start that section of the story, you will want to read to the very end. Throughout the book, Crash teases of a secret that Burn whispered to him that ended the siege on the school. Finally, near the end, you learn the secret and, to me, it was devastating.

Crash and Burn is Michael Hassan’s first novel, and I highly recommend it. I know some readers will be turned off by the length of the book, just over 500 pages. Since the characters and story would greatly appeal to people who might normally not like to read, I do wish the author trimmed it down a little so those readers won’t be scared away. But I encourage you to give it a try. It is a riveting book — you’ll laugh and nod approval at some of Crash’s adventures; you’ll shake your head in sadness at other times. This is one of those books that draws you in and keeps a hold on you from the first page to the last.

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