Crunch by Leslie Connor is one of my favorite kinds is realistic fiction with just one twist of science fiction? Most of the story seems realistic. Only one small part moves beyond where we are right now, but it’s not so much a technological advance as it is a technological disaster!
The characters are realistic and believable. Five kids are staying home alone while their parents take an anniversary trip. Lil is the oldest who tries to keep everything together. She is also an artist who decides to paint a mural on the barn when her art class is canceled. Angus and Eva, the five year old twins, just miss their mom and dad, but are usually pretty cheerful and friendly. Vince is much more reclusive, but is a genius at bike repairs. Dewey is the main character. He takes on the responsibility of running the bike repair shop in his parents’ absence. He’s pretty responsible with it, but the sudden demand for bikes and repairs soon has business overflowing. I like how he tries to keep things running even when it gets tough.
The setting is mostly realistic. Most of the story takes place on the Mariss farm. They have a big garden, two chickens, and some goats. The kids gather eggs and milk the goats every morning. The bike shop is in the barn next to the house. It’s a small community where people look out for each other. Pop and Mattie check on the Mariss family frequently. Officer Runks also swings by on a regular basis, especially when bike thefts become a growing problem. The coolest part of the setting is the now car-free interstate highway. Since no cars can go anywhere, people begin walking and biking down the highway. They even organize themselves by speed of travel!
It’s the main problem of the story that gives a little science fiction twist. Just as the parents are headed home, the world runs out of gas. That has not happened yet, thank goodness, but it could be a possibility. The lack of gas causes many complications. Obviously, the kids have the continue taking care of themselves without their parents. Because cars can’t run without gas, the demand for bikes goes up. Dewey has more business than he can handle even with Vince’s help in the bike shop. It’s also hard to get supplies (like bike parts and groceries) since trucks aren’t running. There are a few electric cars, but no big technological breakthroughs.
I really liked the upbeat tone of this story. Other books that imagine a world without gas (such as Suzanne Weyn’s Empty) take a much darker view. In Crunch, most people work together to solve the crisis. For example, people are orderly on the highway. Dewey gives a guy named Robert a ride on his tandem. Robert then comes around to help out in the bike shop. There are a few bad guys taking advantage of the situation. Someone is stealing a little bit here and a little bit there from area businesses. Some people on the highway will beat up drivers to get a gas ration card, but most people are good. I also liked the word play. Vince comes up with the word crunch to describe the lack of gas since shortage doesn’t seem strong enough. Vince also describes Robert as a hitchbiker.