Cover of Crash and Burn by Michael Hassan. Two matches in a book, one of them burned out.

About the Book

Title: Crash and Burn
Published: 2013

Cover Story: Smooth
Drinking Buddy:
Neither of You
Testosterone Level:
Can’t Breathe
Talky Talk:
Unfortunately Relevant
Bonus Factors:
Writers, Evil Father
Bromance Status:
It Can’t Happen Here

Cover Story: Smooth

The burned out matches work on so many levels: the title, the fact that one of the main characters is named Burn, that it’s a book about a kid who is a burn out, and that the narrator’s a pot head.

The Deal:

On April 21, 2008, David ‘Burn’ Burnett planted several powerful bombs in his high school, taking all the students and teachers hostage. While he very probably planned to kill everyone, including himself, Steven ‘Crash’ Crashinsky managed to stop him.

Crash and Burn have a long history, going back to childhood, when Burn tried to torch their elementary school. And now the world wants Crash to tell the entire story of their relationship. But can Crash truly tell the story of Burn, a kid who lost his father on 9/11 and went downhill from there? A kid who considered Crash to be his mortal, hated enemy, and yet, in many ways, his best friend as well? Can Crash mention the guilt he feels for his actions over the years, including his hopeless love for Burn’s sister, Roxanne? And above all, what secret did Burn reveal to Crash that terrible day?

Drinking Buddy: Neither of You

Two pints of beer cheersing

I’m sorry, but I pretty much loathe both the main characters in this book. And it takes a masterful writer to pull off the unlikable protagonist. Well played, Mr. Hassan, well played.

Burn is a highly-intelligent, angry young man. The loss of his father is the first of many tragedies that knock him further and further over the edge, until nothing is left but pure rage. And somewhere along the line, he has decided that Steven Crashinsky is the cause of all his problems. Crash is going to have to pay, he makes this clear. At the same time, he latches on to Crash, determined to be his friend and protector.

Crash, who is dealing with his own terrifically shitty home life, is not thrilled with having an evil genius as his mortal enemy/mentor. He’s one of the few people who knows how dangerous Burn is, and yet can do nothing to stop him.

Of course, Crash is one of the biggest assholes in recent YA literature. He smokes a LOT of dope, binge drinks, and is a fan of Johnny Knoxville. He uses his new celebrity to make money and garner favors, and excuses his behavior with ‘I can’t help it, I’m ADHD.’ He brags about how he can get girls to do pretty much anything he asks (even before he was famous), and then ditches them when they bore him.

I don’t like him. Every time I feel sorry for him, every time I want to like Crash, he reminds me of the colossal dicks I went to high school with. Again, only a very talented writer could create such a compelling anti-hero.

Testosterone Level: Can’t Breathe

About a hundred pages before the end of the book, Crash breaks the fourth wall and tells me, the reader, that I’m about to get to the good part, and to block out a couple of hours because I won’t be able to stop reading once I start. That’s a pretty outrageous brag there, but he was right. Once the hostage scene begins there is no place to stop, no place to take a break. And it says right on page one that no one was hurt that day, so I already knew how it was going to end.

Even in the events leading up to the school siege, there are plenty of white-knuckle scenes. Burn is the sort of boy with no brakes whatsoever. There is nothing he won’t do, and he does it a lot. Every time Crash lets his guard down and assumes that Burn is either dead or in the loony bin, there he is. Sitting in Crash’s bedroom. And no one else knows he’s crazy.

Talky Talk: Unfortunately Relevant

I was planning on making this a partly silly review, with pictures of Crazy Harry and lots of bad explosion puns. I dunno, for some reason I don’t feel like joking about school violence this week.

But hey, maybe some kid will read this book and recognize the Burn in his life before it’s too late.

Bonus Factor: Writer

Close up of a person's hands while writing a letter

After saving the school, Crash was offered a book contract. And that’s what Crash and Burn is, the book Crash is writing about his experiences with Burn over the past decade. But he simultaneously writes about his problems with his editors, the stress of being a hero (and the public loves it when a hero fails), his irresponsibility with his advance money, and the frustration upon realizing that writing a book is not easily done. Both the past and present sections converge nicely, making me admire/resent Michael Hassan even more.

Bonus Factor: Evil Father

Darth Vader reaching out to Luke Skywalker, proclaiming 'I am your father'

I can cut Crash a little slack. After all, his father, Jacob Crashinsky, is a glorious douche of a dad. Not the absent dad, not the abusive dad, but a guy who is just a flat-out jerk. He is so utterly disappointed in his son, that he never stops to think that maybe he’s given Steven no reason to want to make his father proud. And every time Crash does something obnoxious, I can take pleasure in how angry it will make his father.

Bromance Status: It Can’t Happen Here

But it can, can’t it? It can happen anywhere, and to anyone. And it’s nice that YA authors aren’t afraid to tackle the big issues. This is an ugly thing, but the book handled it beautifully.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Harper Collins.  I received neither money nor beer for writing this review (dammit!). Crash and Burn will be available In March of 2013.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.