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Monday, August 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Book review: With Annie Bloom, Spokane YA novelist Chris Crutcher finds a new voice

Local author Chris Crutcher poses at him home in Spokane, in the room where he wrote most of his books, on July 19, 2018. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Local author Chris Crutcher poses at him home in Spokane, in the room where he wrote most of his books, on July 19, 2018. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Marilyn Carpenter For The Spokesman-Review

Like his previous 12 novels, Chris Crutcher’s newest book for young adults, “Losers Bracket” (2018, Greenwillow Books) will be another hit with his readers.

Annie Boots is Crutcher’s first female narrator. Annie is a 17-year-old foster kid whose foster parents, she tells the reader, have “funded all my passions: youth basketball, parks and rec, cross-country, and track. They kept me in the finest Nike gear and runners, gave me my own room with a walk-in closet and separate bathroom. And they bought me books.”

Even though her birth family has caused her a lot of pain and sadness, Annie feels a strong pull to see them. She says, “there’s something about real family; you’re connected, and that’s it.” The problem for Annie is that her foster dad has put “grave restrictions” on time with her birth mom and half sister, whose 5-year-old son, Frankie, becomes a big part of the story when he disappears. This edict by her foster dad, Annie says, “turned me into a liar.”

How Annie navigates her life torn between these two families is the core of the novel. She has lots of support from her high school friends, her foster mom, a librarian, a therapist and her case worker.

There are several bonuses in the book. Among them are the scenes with Annie and her book club friends. The book club is led by a cool librarian who guides the discussions about novels on the topic of heroes. The discussions about the books made me want to read them too. Those titles are now on my must-read list. Annie states that “books are the secret tunnel to the world you want.” The books she reads and discusses with her friends influence her life choices.

The notes that are included from the weekly meetings with her therapist are another bonus. These notes serve as sign-posts for the reader to follow Annie’s progress in coming to terms with the challenges and conflicts in her life. The wise advice from the therapist and the guidance Annie receives from her case worker reflects Crutcher’s expertise and experiences as a family and child therapist for the Spokane Community Mental Health Center. He weaves these experiences into his novels.

The last bonus is that this story takes place in Spokane. It includes many references to Spokane landmarks, events, and culture. Hoopfest is featured in the beginning of the novel when Annie deliberately loses her team’s first game so that they will be placed in the losers bracket. That way she got to play more games and increased the chances that her birth family might show up to watch her.

For many years, Crutcher spoke to my young adult literature classes at Eastern Washington University. Those students who had read at least one of his books before he spoke invariably read his other novels. Both his books and his talk inspired them and gave them fresh perspectives on their careers as teachers working with middle school and high school students. Two of these students’ favorite books were: “Whale Talk,” a novel, and “King of the Mild Frontier,” Crutcher’s autobiography.

Spokane readers will have the chance to hear him speak during a gathering of the Northwest Passages Book Club on Jan. 16.

Crutcher has been honored with several awards and accolades that point to his significant contributions to the field of young adult books. The American Library Association has named eight of his young adult books as Best Books for Young Adults, and four of his books appeared on Booklist’s Best 100 Books of the 20th Century, compiled in 2000 – more than any other single author on the list. Crutcher has been honored with the SLATE Intellectual Freedom Award from the National Council of Teachers of English. He also received the Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors an author’s lifetime contributions for young adults. That award is sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association. Finally, he has received the ALAN Award from the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE for outstanding contributions to the field of adolescent literature.

Crutcher’s contributions to our city and his achievements as an author make him a Spokane treasure.

Marilyn Carpenter is a professor emeritus in education at Eastern Washington University.

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