If teenage June seems a bit sophisticated for her age, it’s because she’s had to be. Her father, who bails out sinking companies for a living, has relocated his wife and daughter to cities all over the country, most recently Chicago and now Minneapolis—or, more truthfully, the same-everywhere suburbs of these cities. Within days of starting at her new school, June figures out whom to befriend and whom to avoid. She’s not conniving about it, just self-protective, if a little jaded.

But this isn’t only her story. From the first page we get to know both June and Wes, a floppy-haired boy who’s lived in this particular suburb his whole life. National Book Award-winning author Pete Hautman has made them the co-stars of this powerful first-love story by switching between their perspectives every few paragraphs. The transitions are smooth, in part because the two are simpatico.

As a character, June is a gift, a funny-sad girl who is so realistically drawn it almost feels a shame to think of her as a character. Wes is different from the “dark and moody Chuck Palahniuk/Kurt Vonnegut/Life-Sucks-and-Then-You-Die brooders” she’s met before, but he’s private and quiet too, and his feelings for June soon become intense.
With its lovely but underplayed creation-of-the-universe metaphor, The Big Crunch is evocative of their attraction to each other, viscerally so—it’s stomach-flipping at times. June’s father’s job threatens to separate them, which complicates things and gives the novel a plot to hang on. But the salient detail here isn’t story but feelings, that magnet-pull of first love.

 

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