Lynn: There is always a big demand for mysteries for the middle school set so it was doubly exciting to find one that provides a well plotted puzzle AND a lot more besides. Crunch (Harper/Katherine Tegen, 2010) features the charming Marriss family: narrator 14-year-old Dewey, his 18-year-old sister Lil, shy 13-year-old Vince and the five-year-old twins Angus and Eva. The country is caught in a crunch – a major fuel shortage – that has emptied the highways of cars and trucks. Dewey is managing the family bike repair shop while his father, a long distance trucker, is away on a trip with his mother and now the parents are stuck near the Canadian border. The Bike Barn has been busy this summer but now with no fuel, business is booming. Bikes are being dragged out and dusted off from every corner. They ALL seem to need repairs and nobody wants to wait. At first it’s kind of cool being on their own and the siblings are coping well but as the crisis stretches out, issues arise and things get crazier every day. Shortages start to become a serious issue and when expensive bike parts start to disappear Dewey has to figure out who is responsible.
One of the things I liked most about this book is that it depicts such a nice normal family – perhaps a tad mature – but nice. The sibling issues that arise are blissfully normal. What a refreshing change from the portrayals of hateful hurtful damaging families I’ve been slogging through lately! The mystery is nicely done with clues well placed and while it’s fairly easy to spot the culprit, I enjoyed watching Dewey figure it out. The fuel shortage adds an original dimension too. Its impact on so many aspects of ordinary life really made me think but it was just one of many interesting threads. Since my mechanical skills are on same level as the chickens in this story, I was less interested in all the bike-mechanic details but I am very sure this aspect will meet with enthusiastic approval from the intended audience. So – throw in a really despicable neighbor, a stinky goat, and some cranky customers and you’ve got something fresh and really engaging. Excuse me now -I’m so inspired by Dewey that I’m going to go see if I can adjust the brakes on my bike!