Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Trash Can Days by Teddy Steinkellner

Trash Can Days by Teddy Steinkellener
Publisher: Disney Hyperion August 20th, 2013
Hardcover 352 pages
Received from publisher through NetGalley for review
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Author Links-
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.

Trash Can Days reads more like a young adult novel than a middle grade novel so I'd definitely recommend it for the highest end of middle grade readers to ya readers. It chronicles the lives of the narrators through one year at middle school. But there are words like slut written in the bathroom, a lot of bullying, and gang violence and hooking up. It just feels like an older novel even though the characters are in middle school.  Maybe I don't know what goes on in middle school? If it's as bad as this, I am so glad I'm not there anymore and maybe I should cut my rising 8th grader a little more slack. What does this say for high school? Or is this just what happens in California? There are a lot more questions this novel raised and it's made me ask a bunch of questions of my kids.

The main characters of the novel, Jake and Hannah Schwartz, Jake's best friend Danny Uribe and Dorothy Wu all come from a school called Arlington, attended by the privileged children of movie stars and directors, music stars and other such people along with a few lucky kids that live near enough to attend. When these students join the rest of the student body at San Paulo middle school, a small microcosm of the world seems to form. All kinds of students from different backgrounds with different troubles, different goals and different cliques (or no cliques) mix together in one soup pot called middle school. Teddy Steinkellner writes separate chapters from each characters point of view, sometimes a random character narrates which can be a little jarring as you try to figure out who this person is, but for the most part, the narration works well. Four characters is not too many to keep up with. Their personalities are so distinct yet overlap and interweave in a way so that at the end, they come together for one pivotal showdown. You'd never believe from the beginning of the novel that this where the end would lead.

I think the synopsis, as is true in so many cases, gives away way too much. I know it's supposed to hook you as a reader and maybe it did when I first grabbed the book off NetGalley. But I didn't reread it before I read the novel so I had no idea what was going to happen as I read. It was so much better that way! I had no preconceived notions, no thoughts, I didn't know anything. I was blind as to who these kids were and where the story was going. Try to read it that way. So much better.

What Trash Can Days reminded me was that no matter what group you are in, popular, eccentric, gang you still have pressures and worries that you have to deal with. And despite your friends changing alliances, your changing body, the changing scenery, there will always be someone, somewhere that you can identify with if you just take a chance. There will always be someone that you don't get along with. And your friends will change as your interests change. ( And, puberty will come, no matter how much you think it won't, it will eventually get there!)

I'd recommend this novel to older MG and all YA lovers who like contemporary reads. I wouldn't call this dark, but it isn't light either. It has it's own hopeful outlook at the end. It's written very well, lean on description, but you still get an idea of what "The Big Top" looks like and the view from on top of it. Despite the length, the novel flows rather quickly with a satisfying conclusion.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley. I was not compensated for my review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I just thought I'd share that I did ask my kids about their experiences in middle school. My Jake (rising 8th grader, he's a nerd, no friends, awkward but puberty has hit, he's been shaving since 6th grade) says here, in NC, there are no gangs, no kids that are called sluts or whores, no PDA's in school, no one makes out. Now I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that he's probably not in the loop. But you never know, the quiet ones seem to know a lot. Now, I do believe him about the gangs. I doubt our little city, especially at his school has a problem with gangs.

Then I asked my rising 11th grader about his middle school experience. He is more like Hannah Schwartz We lived on Cape Cod when he went through middle school. Actually, the school he attended was K-8 so it wasn't separated. The town we lived in was Sandwich. There weren't any gangs, not a surprise. But there was a lot going on sexually. A lot more than kissing. Somehow, that didn't surprise me either. I got to know some of the girls since they all attended the same school and my son played sports. I have heard some stories, now that he's older, that make me cringe. In fact, I stop him and tell him I don't want to hear any more.

So, is it location that makes the school experience that different? Or is it the kid? Or both? What do you think? What have any of your experiences been? How recent are they?


  1. Jake Danny and Dorothy sound like the quite the team. I haven't heard of this one but glad you loved it

    1. I really did enjoy this one. I could really identify with Jake. I have a Jakob who is much like Jake. Jake has a "jewfro" which my husband had growing up (before he went bald) and Jake is studying for his bar mitzvah. My son would like to be bar mitzvahed but I am not Jewish so first he'd have to convert. And he's really smart like Jake and a little awkward like him.
      I always empathize with kids like him.

  2. Some interesting questions. I think the school and the location makes a different as far as gangs and PDA and all that. If you live in a small town it is less likely to be prominent especially if most of the people are predominately religious... I am speaking from experience but when you get into a bigger city with a larger mix in population anything can happen. I am not sure I like this MG has all that in it, I think it is probably best suited for younger YA readers and mature MG. I appreciate you insight on this one!

    1. I really think it's YA Heidi. It just has younger characters. I do think a more religious school would have stricter rules about PDA. I know when I was growing up there was no PDA, no hand holding no arms around each other nothing, but that was the 80's. Times have definitely changed! You should really read just for the perspective of the different kids and how they see middle school. Some see it as the height of their school career, some as the worst time in their lives. And you need to see why it's called Trash Can Days. I hope my kids don't have to go through that!!

  3. Interesting book and I can see why you were thinking older than mentioned here. I would have as well. At least it got you asking questions. :)

    We had gangs, but not at the MG level in school. Drugs, PDA.. yes. I think it is both the school and the kid that makes the difference. I knew about it, but wasn't involved. I actually think that small towns have the same, but it isn't talked about as much. I don't come from a big city at all.

    1. I asked the author and wanted to interview him but I asked the night before his book released, a little late. He said he didn't know MG from YA when he went to write this book. He just wanted to write a book about middle school and all the craziness. I think it is actually a YA book. He said Barnes and Noble put it in the YA section.

      I do think it depends on where you live. I live just north of Charlotte and sure, we have drugs, but it's in the high schools, really in the high schools. But I think it depends on the kid, too. My youngest is just not in the know. He barely gets to class with his backpack. My oldest is all about knowing everyone and couldn't be bothered to be prepared for class. He knows the druggies and the gangs, but that's high school. Again, we were in Massachusetts in a tiny town at the time. Teeny tiny.

  4. I think it's a little bit of both--location and the kid. I don't doubt that in some places this stuff goes on as early as elementary school, but I also think there are places where this doesn't go on.


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