At a Glance: Trash Can Days by Teddy Steinkellner

Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Jake Schwartz is not looking forward to middle school. Puberty feels light-years away; he’s not keen on the cool clothes or lingo; and he has the added pressure of preparing for his bar mitzvah. The only saving grace is that Danny Uribe, his lifelong best friend, will be by his side…

Or will he? Since Danny’s summer growth spurt, there’s been a growing distance between him and Jake. Danny is excited to explore all that junior high has to offer…especially the girls (and most notably Hannah, Jake’s older sister). But gang life has its allure, too, and he soon finds himself in over his head.

Meanwhile, Hannah is dealing with her own problems–being queen bee is not easy. The other girls are out for blood, and boys are so…exhausting. Danny surprises her with his maturity, but can Hannah’s reputation survive if she’s linked to a sevvy? And what would Jake think about her hooking up with his best friend?

Dorothy Wu could not care less about junior-high drama. She is content to stay in her bedroom and write epic stories of her adventures as a warrior mermaid maiden. But that changes when she discovers the school’s writing club. There, she meets a young lad with heroic potential and decides that life outside her fantasy world just might have some appeal.

In the course of one year at San Paulo Junior High, these four lives will intersect in unique and hilarious ways. Friendships will grow and change. Reputations will be transformed. And maybe someone will become a man.

My thoughts:

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy Trash Can Days, for two main reasons:

1) The ages just seemed… off. This is a book about 7th and 8th graders, but the tone was really off for a middle school story. Between the Hollywood producer’s kids’ privileged lives, the gang turf wars, the online cattiness, and the “slut shaming” that happens far too frequently in a relatively short period of time, I felt that the content was not believable or realistic, given the ages of the characters. Perhaps if the setting had been a high school, it might have worked better. As is, I just didn’t buy it.

2) The main events and characterizations also felt strange and off-target. Oddball character Dorothy Wu comes across as a caricature and is not credible for a second as an actual 7th grader. Her weirdness — and then sudden triumphant change to a leadership role in the school — just doesn’t work at all. And this problem is consistent throughout the book — all of the various point-of-view characters and their storylines come across as an adult’s idea of what “kids today” are like. I didn’t buy any of it — not the Hollywood princess and her boy trouble, not the uncool younger boy, and definitely not the boy lured into gang life and violence. The pieces don’t mesh together, and none of it was believable. Additionally, the book can’t seem to settle on a tone — at times it feels almost satirical; other times, it’s deadly earnest about the pressures of middle school life. The jumps between flip and serious are jarring and don’t help the story at all. The synopsis uses the word “hilarious” — and this book definitely is not.

I struggled to finish Trash Can Days, and I can’t say that I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t recommend it for middle school-age kids, as the subject matter seems much older — yet I think it’s a bit too jokey and light-weight for the young adult market. I’m not sure where this book really belongs, and that’s one of the problems.

I’d looked forward to reading Trash Can Days. Sadly, I can’t recommend it.


The details:

Title: Trash Can Days
Author: Teddy Steinkellner
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Middle Grade (per Amazon, ages 10 and up)
Source: Review copy courtesy of Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley

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