Book Review: Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga by Teddy Steinkellner (3.5/5)

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I have been putting off reviewing this book for two months now…for no particular reason. It’s time I post this review!

Trash Can Days features a multiple-first-person-POV writing style. The entries include diary excerpts, online chats and emails. I imagine they may have different fonts in the actual novel that will illustrate this scattered storytelling style quite well!

There are four main characters in Trash Can Days: eighth grader Hannah, her seventh grader brother Jake, their friend Danny and seventh grader Dorothy Wu. Each of them struggle with unique problems — thus, the beauty of the multiple POV’s. You can only understand these problems if you see them from each middle schooler’s eyes. Popular Hannah struggles with friendships and boyfriends. Jake finds Danny drifting apart from him. Danny feels torn between his Mexican identity and being Jake’s friend.

And then there’s Dorothy Wu. Oh, Dorothy. If there’s one character in every book that you must love, it’s Dorothy. She’s weird, lonely, brilliant and admirable. She’s not afraid to be herself. And that’s something you can’t say about every 12-year-old Asian-American girl, pressured by society, parents and peers. I greatly admire Teddy Steinkellner’s ability to infuse such personality into the character of Dorothy. In fact, I think the reason I enjoyed the book was for Dorothy’s moments!

That being said, Trash Can Days was not phenomenal. It has moments of emotion and catharsis for each of the four main characters, but the story feels disjointed at times and the ending doesn’t seem quite as fulfilling as one might expect. There’s also violence and language in this book. It wouldn’t be suitable for elementary school children. But the social situations, peer pressure, bullying and social outcasting (of Dorothy Wu) is, sadly, a somewhat realistic portrayal of what my middle school was like.

Trash Can Days’ target audience is a bit vague. It’s definitely not YA…Yes, it’s still middle grade. Personally, I will probably not be re-reading Trash Can Days, though I did screenshot some of Dorothy Wu’s funniest words. (I’m reading this on Kindle on my phone.) And I wouldn’t recommend this to the children in my life (who are all elementary-school-aged). In conclusion, I think middle schoolers and high schoolers would find Trash Can Days enjoyable.

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Read more of my book reviews here on my blog: Remembering Wonderland! 

Book Review: Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey (4.5/5)

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Unexplained Fevers consists of a scattering of twisted, beautiful and melancholy poems — also modern-day retellings of fairy tales. Gailey’s poems have a melodic feel to them. There is this haunting echo to her words that tells you, “There’s something deeper in these lines. There’s something you can find here about yourself.” Her fairy tales are nothing like the Grimm fairy tales, nor anything like Disney. They taste surreal. They’re this heartbreaking mix of reality and dreams.

Gailey reshapes fairy tale characters as modern-day beings. Snow White falls into a coma after cheer practice. Sleeping Beauty has a MRI. Alice “[whispers] from the covers of cereal boxes.” Hansel and Gretel suffer from a hereditary disease. Jack and Jill are 30-year-olds whose lives and dreams slip away like pieces of paper. These are broken people with broken lives and broken souls — but they are so much realer, so much more beautiful than their polished fairy-tale counterparts.

In her collection, Gailey plunges into an important theme and raises questions about gender roles and womanhood. Fairy tales have this concept of damsels in distress who find happily-ever-endings. But these damsels are never the heroines of their own stories, never the deciders of their own fates. In the poem “She Had Unexplained Fevers,” Gailey describes the girl Snow White: “her hair ribbon was laced with poison absorbed through her scalp…girls like that they bruise easy like fruit.” And she wonders: “Why do they wish beauty? Why not safety?” This line of poetry is so powerful and it somehow etched its way into permanence in my memory.

Rebirth and choices…that’s a thing we all want. Strength. Chances in life. The power to shape our own identities. Princesses are weak. They’re gorgeous and fragile and weak — and perhaps there’s a kind of beauty in that fragility, something in that vulnerability? But there’s no choice with weakness. On her deathbed, Snow White makes a wish: “In [her] next life, she swears to herself, [she] will be a force of nature.”

We grew up with fairy tales. We grew up with princesses. We admired princesses. Admired their perfect lives and fairy tale endings. But what if the “princess” didn’t want that ending? What if she wants “a little time to [herself]”? She “might dream up a new ending, a new soul.” My favorite poem is about the tired princess. She “cuts off her long hair and moves to a far corner of the world, with salmon and heron for company.” She’s lonely in a strange and lovely way. In her new ending, she “[swims] with the seals, skin turning blue from cold…She [tells] herself stories of mermaids turning into sea foam, women who walked on legs like scissors, and swore not to kill any more of herself for her prince.”

Gailey finishes her collection with a kind of message for us. She says princesses never have the idea “to flee [their] fates.” They wait for princes or friends, “asleep in glass coffins and briar-thorned prisons.” They wait for the narrator to say something…to point them in the right direction. But we…we’re not fairy tale characters, and it’s a good thing. We can decide our fates, we can run away into different endings, and we can chose safety over beauty. Our lives are real and full of choices. In a way, our stories are so much better.

I recommend you read these poems, whoever you are, whatever age you are. They’re fun, quick to read, and maybe you’ll find a message for yourself.

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review