Crunch by Leslie Connor

crunch: n. a crucial point or situation, typically one at which a decision with important consequences must be made.
a severe shortage of credit or money.

Or energy. A fuel shortage has stranded Dewey’s parents far away from home up north “almost in Canada” with their “eighteen foot box truck with a roll-up rear door.” No fuel available even for truckers with ration cards. Eighteen year old Lil is in charge of the family and the house, and fourteen year old Dewey is running The Bike Barn, a low-key bicycle repair shop that has become a hopping joint since the fuel crunch has put all the cars and trucks out of commission. Dewey has the help of his thirteen year old brother, Vince, who is an expert bike repairman, but the three older Marriss children also have responsibility for the twins, five year olds Angus and Eva.

Will they be able to keep up with all the business that’s coming their way since everybody needs a bicycle in good working condition?

When will Mom and Dad be able to come home?

Will The Bike Barn be next in the rash of thefts that has hit their small town, especially thefts of bicycles?

And what should they do about The Spive, Mr. Spivey next door who openly borrows (takes) their eggs, their grapes, the tools, and who knows what else?

The premise here was a little weak, but I didn’t care. In the book there’s absolutely no gasoline available, all over the country, but electricity still flows freely. Don’t they need fuel to produce electricity? Maybe it’s just down here in Texas that we use a lot of petroleum and natural gas to produce the electricity. I think that if there were no fuel at all for the trucks and cars, there would also be an electricity shortage. But you can correct me if I’m wrong.

Anyway, there’s no electricity shortage in Crunchworld. And the trains are still running. But the freeways are full of cyclists. And Dewey’s father’s bicycle repair shop is, as I said, doing a lot of business. One of the most interesting parts of this story was that it showed what’s involved in running a business. Like in the book Rocky Road, the young teen protagonist ends up running the family business, and Dewey, like Tess, is quite a capable business person. There are difficulties, but the difficulties are overcome with a combination of determination, hard work, and ingenuity. And they get by with a little help from friends.

Crunch follows what I think is a good formula for middle grade fiction (maybe for any fiction): put your characters in a crunch, a hard place. Squeeze them a little, and make it even harder. Then, let them figure out how to solve/resolve their own problems and live happily ever after. I definitely recommend Crunch, especially since it’s both boy and girl-friendly.

Other takes:
Welcome to My Tweendom: “Leslie Connor has written a mystery that has an interestingly timeless feel to it. Dewey and his brothers and sisters are all memorable characters, and having the parents stranded far away made for adventures with a more important feel. There is equal boy and girl appeal with mechanics of bicycles given as much room as character interactions.”

Angela Leeper at Book Page: “The Mariss family’s teamwork and quirky lifestyle make readers want to join along as they play, laugh and dine on clam chowder after a busy yet rewarding day on the farm.”

Ms. Yingling Reads: “This was fun in the way that The Boxcar Children was fun– there seems to be more scope for adventure when parents are not in the picture.”

Crunch has been nominated for the 2010 Cybils Awards in the Middle Grade Fiction category.

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