Boy notices girl. Boy mentally dubs her Fish Girl. Despite his best efforts, boy becomes fascinated by girl. Girl doesn’t notice boy...until she’s dating his oldest friend. High school juniors Wes and June* have something in common: Neither wants to form a real attachment to another person. Wes recently ended a long-term** relationship because he found that being closely connected to another person is just...exhausting. In June’s case, it’s simply a matter of self-preservation.
They avoid the inevitable. They run from each other again and again, yet again and again, they end up standing face to face. Their emotions constantly flip and flop between the two equal and opposite conditions of teen-dom. Ennui:
Wes spent most of the day reading a book of “great American short stories” for English. He started out with the shortest story in the book, then read the next shortest, and so on. Some of them were pretty good, but a lot of them he didn’t get what the big deal was, especially the ones where in the end the character figures out that life just plain sucks, which Wes could have told them going in.
And emotion so tremendously powerful that it leaves one breathless (in this case, literally):
“What are you thinking?” she asked quietly.
He didn’t reply at first. She wondered if he had heard her. Then his tongue peeked out and moistened his lips and he said, “I can’t breathe when I look at you.”
“Thanks a lot!”
“I’m serious. You’re just too… too, I don’t know.”
June was having trouble breathing too. Maybe it was carbon monoxide. She rolled her window down and inhaled a lungful of ice-cold air. When she turned back to Wes, he had opened his eyes. He was staring at her again. He looked frightened.
“I gotta” — his voice cracked — “go.” Then he was out the door and running away.
When I wrote about Anna and the French Kiss (Dutton, 2010) earlier this month, I asked you to recommend other YA romance books. Plenty of titles were thrown my way, but only The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman (Scholastic, 2011) got multiple mentions. Which piqued my interest. My curiosity quadrupled when I realized that every single person who recommended it did so with a caveat along the lines of: “OMG, it isn’t really anything like Anna, but you should totally read The Big Crunch! It’s so good!”
Now after having read it, here I am, saying pretty much the same thing: You totally have to read The Big Crunch, regardless of whether you liked—or even read—Anna. Because it’s not just good, it’s fabulous. It’s a quiet love story that delivers an emotional kick in the gut. It’s unpredictable and unusual, true and real. The Big Crunch acknowledges the ephemeral nature of first love, but celebrates the depth of feeling that accompanies it. It’s introspective without navel-gazing, and it’s tightly written, sharply detailed, with a crisp, clear focus. It’s painful without being angsty, and hopeful without being saccharine or ever sacrificing realism. All that, and it’s also a beautifully written story about friendship and family, sacrifice, commitment and compromise.
I’ll be recommending it across the ages and across the genres. It’s a love story that packs a punch and will stay with you, that’ll be worth rereading, and that you’ll want to reread.
When she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably curled up by the woodstove, reading.
*The flap copy gets June’s name wrong. Seriously. It refers to her as “Jen.” Three times. Which is a pretty glaring error. The cover art is perfect, though. Illustrator Frank Stockton shows the arc of Wes and June’s story without spoiling it, which is impressive.
**Eighteen months. Hey, in case you’ve forgotten, 18 months in high school is, as Hautman puts it, “an eternity.”