Book Review: Crash Into Me

crash_into_meCrash Into Me

written by: Albert Borris
published by: Simon Pulse, 2009
Audience (Reading Level): 14 and up (5.3)

UPDATED with links to other reviews.

When the Class of 2k9 sent me the ARC, they also sent along a Press Release. I was going to publish it, but Lee Wind talked so eloquently about the meaning of community yesterday, that I think you should read it on his site.  I’ll give you a gist here. Albert Borris – who is co-President of the 2K9 class – suffered a severe stroke last December.  Although  he has recovered physically, he is still struggling to regain his speech.  The Class of 2K9 is taking on the task of helping spread the word about Albert and his just-released debut YA novel Crash Into Me.

Thanks to Fran Cannon Slayton (a fellow Charlottesvillian and highly acclaimed 2K9 debut author of When the Whistle Blows ), I had the opportunity to read this incredible work in ARC form.  I am honored to help give it a voice. Here is my review.

Four months ago, four teens connected online and started chatting online. They talked about their lives, their previous attempts to commit suicide, and the desire to escape from it all now. They have planned a suicide road trip: two weeks, traveling across country, with stops at the graves of famous people who killed themselves. The first stop is Boston, Massachussetts (Anne Sexton), then they drive to Woody Creek, Colorado (Hunter S. Thompson); Sun Valley, Idaho (Ernest Hemingway); Seattle (Kurt Cobain); and end their trip in Death Valley, California. Meet the Suicide Dogs.

  • Owen, our narrator, is the resident suicide expert. He has studied death more than anyone else in the group. He uses a laptop to create the formal record of their trip and share  Top Five and Top Ten lists of macabre information. Owen’s “cover” is that he is scouting out potential colleges.
  • Jin-Ae is a Korean-American teen who is struggling with coming out as a lesbian. She is “school-hunting” with Owen. They go to the same high school and landed in the same hospital after they attempted suicide.
  • Frank loves sports and alcohol. He took his parents’ car for the trip. They are in Europe, so they won’t know he’s missing … or using their credit card. He has a fake ID to buy alcohol and a gun stowed under the front seat.
  • Audrey is technically a runaway, though she insists her mom and step-dad-number-three won’t miss her. She’s angry, she calls things as she sees them, and she is the lone smoker.

There is no easing into Crash Into Me. With Owen’s opening line – “The third time I tried to kill myself I used a rope” – there is no mistaking the subject. It also tells you where you’re going … as much as you can in the first 12 words.

Crash Into Me is compelling reading. It has an edge without being edgy. Each of our teens is dealing with personal secrets. They hate their lives, they hate themselves, and they don’t worry about who will miss them. This two-week jaunt is their plan of escape; a chance to make their own decisions about their lives. They may not know each other, but they share a common desire and they support each other unconditionally in their goals. Along the way, raw support for a cause morphs into mutually inclusive friendship. They will take care of each other until the end.

To put my own mind at ease, I jumped to the end of the book fairly early on. I needed to know what direction this road trip was going. I’m going to keep that to myself. Suffice it to say, this book is about the journey.  We follow Owen’s thought processes most closely, because he is telling the story; but he carefully documents the exchanges among/between Audrey, Jin-Ae, and Frank, too. We get the chance to learn about the characters individually and as a pack.

There are no chapters to this book. Periodically, the story stops and Borris inserts the instant messages (IMs) that chronicle the events that led to the trip. The story is also broken up with lists of various sorts. For example, Owen shares lots of facts about suicide and death, such as the Top Ten Bizarre Ways to Kill Yourself. Frank lists the Top Ten Athletes Who Should Kill Themselves, and explains why.

When I step away from the story, I thought these made excellent, original literary devices. They create pauses in the action and natural transitions to the next topic. As a reader (thinking like a parent), they made me uncomfortable. One of the most disturbing scenes in the book is when the kids go to the Colts’ stadium in Indianapolis and write “RIP James Dungy — from the Suicide Dogs” on the stadium gate. Although relatively current and topical, it didn’t seem to fit. Maybe it’s because James Dungy was a kid and all of the other dead “celebrities” mentioned were adults. But I really think it is because Indianapolis is the only place the kids visited where they destroyed public property in such a visible way.

I am not drawn to things that make me squeamish. I am not comfortable thinking about teen death, much less talking about suicide. I wanted to put it down, but I couldn’t.  I might have told myself I kept reading because of the quality of the writing, but in the end it was the story that kept me going. I couldn’t stop thinking about Owen, Frank, Jin-Ae, and Audrey. I wanted to understand them. I was along for the ride.

Crash Into Me is for mature audiences. Although it has a middle-grade reading level, it is most definitely for readers in high school and beyond. There is no doubt that Borris’ experiences as a student-assistance counselor gave him insight into his character’s thinking that many of us could never have.

There will be readers — most likely adults — who don’t think suicide is a topic for teens. To them, I would say this is a well-written, believable story with characters kids can learn from. It is not a how-to book. It is a book where teens struggling with who they are can see the world through someone just like them.

I highly recommend this book. This is an outstanding selection for the classroom, book clubs, or youth groups where you engage in small-group discussions. It is also well-suited for mixed audiences that include dormant, remedial, and advanced readers.

Congratulations, Albert!

As I find more reviews I will come back to update this post so you can link to read them.

Lee Wind – Lee Wind

A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy – Liz Burns

3 responses to “Book Review: Crash Into Me

  1. Crash Into Me sounds like it would spark some interesting discussions between parents and teenagers. Teens are exposed to so much these days, and I do feel that it’s important for parents to be able to talk openly about such situations with them.

    I am going to read this book and decide when the best time is to pass it over to my daughter. Or, maybe she’ll want to read it along with me. We’ll see. Thank you for such a thorough and honest review!

  2. Thanks for taking a peek at Albert’s book, Terry! Great review; it is certainly a book that sticks with you!! Kudos to Albert for a compelling read!

  3. Dawn – I would love to know what you think. It is an excellent book for talking about so many things, not just death. There are lots of layers to the characters, just as there are in each of us.

    Fran – The pleasure was mine. Thanks for inviting so many of us to read it. I have a suspicion the book – and Albert – are destined for great things!

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