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Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga: 09/05/13

cover art

Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga by Teddy Steinkellner is a debut novel told from four points of view: Jake, Danny, Hannah and Dorothy. Through a variety of media including Facebook and email, the children recount their days in middle school.

Yes, middle school can be a hellish set of years. Different groups of children who have grown up together in elementary school are thrown together. Certainly as a child, I faced some of the worst bullying and fights of my entire life so far. And certainly every child brings his or her own challenges to school.

But I'm not convinced that Trash Can Days is focused enough to give a true sense of the challenges middle (or junior high school) students face. Instead, things are diluted by a strange sub plot involving Danny and Jake. Danny is hispanic and lives in an area where there are gangs and he's Jake's best friend because his father works as a gardener for Jake's family. I absolutely cringed at this white privilege, best-friend hero thing.

On the girl side of things, there's Hannah who is inconsistently written. She never seems to make up her mind. She flits around with which boy she's interested in, who she wants to be friends with and never seems to think about anything else. Dorothy, then is set as the oddball — because every coming of age story must have one. And of course, she's a writer. And of course, we have to read samples of her writing (which never seems to work well in fiction).

My final thoughts is that the book needs more polishing. The characters need to be either fleshed out more to make them more realistic — or made more extreme to make the book funnier. Frankly, one voice, rather than multiple, might have worked better.

Two stars

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