My second grader has moved up to the Juvenile Lit section of the library, which is where I found Crunch by Leslie Connor. At 330 pages, this chapter book looked daunting to my daughter, but I needed to know the story behind the bikey dust jacket.
Within a few quick chapters I was hooked into the plot. Fueled by a nation-wide fuel shortage, or crunch, the five Marriss kids are forced to run the family homestead and bicycle repair business during the summer while their parents are stranded out of town indefinitely. These are troubled times filled with shortages of everything. A plentiful garden, along with goat milk and chicken eggs from their family farm, provide a key food supply for the children and their neighbors. The children also quickly take advantage of the nearby highway as it transforms into a giant multi-use path for cyclists and pedestrians.
The cause of the oil shortage is masked behind the veil of politics, but themes of overconsumption, oil dependence, and self-reliance are clearly presented. There are hints at the fact that bicycles and shoes are not the simple savior to our car culture problem. During a family dinner of homemade clam chowder shared with friends and strangers, the narrator notes, "We were consumed with consuming." Even the bike industry is plagued by the oil shortage, as deliveries of parts are delayed and costs begin to skyrocket. This car-less future is still a world complicated by the necessity of at least some oil.
The importance of art, neighborliness, sharing, creativity, and hard work all play important roles in the story, providing sound advice on how we all should live together. However, with fourteen year-old Dewey as the narrator, questions about the order of the past and the unknown chaos of the future are literally left open-ended on the page for both him and the reader to answer.
For parents like me who carry their children around town by bicycle, Crunch reads like a childrens text book focused on explaining why we ride. The plot is driven by children learning to take on the responsibilities of adults while still making childlike mistakes. These kids are learning about cultural change while actively taking part in the shifting paradigm (pun very much intended.) Crunch is a child's view on one possible future for America: a future without oil. It's a future that readers of any age will enjoy exploring and pondering.
You can find Crunch, by Leslie Connor, in both hardcover and eBook versions at the Tacoma Public Library.