Dented Cans by Heather Walsh

Dented Cans
Heather Walsh


Here’s a nice young adult read for teens who, more than anything, want a normal family with normal parents and normal relationships.

Hannah Sampson is a high school junior who’s in a hurry to escape her family and their blue-collar town of North Prospect, Connecticut.  Nothing can keep her from wanting to leave.  Her quirky parents are borderline hoarders.  Her mother fills scrapbooks with pictures and packs them away in the basement.  Her father can’t pass up a bargain on dented cans from the supermarket and has loaded them up on their basement shelves.

If that isn’t enough, things have changed with her fourteen-year-old brother, Ryan.  And little brother Ben barely speaks, preferring instead to communicate with sound effects.  What else is there to do but study hard and find a college that’s far away from this group?  The months pass slowly and a vacation to Disney World brings everything to a head when Hannah’s parents reveal a family secret.

I liked this story, written from Hannah’s point of view, because it gives a pretty good look into family dynamics.  What seems like a weird family turns out to be similar to the way many families communicate, and don’t communicate, with each other.

I think Walsh is best at describing the sibling dynamic, which can be both combative and affectionate.  Hannah and Ryan are both nice to Ben and they share that protective nature.  And the three band together in defiance of their parents, particularly in Disney World.  She also touches on how kids have to break the family rules in order to gain independence, particularly with Ben at the water park.  I also think Walsh does a good job showing how Hannah’s parents react to Ryan and Hannah as they assert themselves.

Some readers may be frustrated with Hannah’s opinions, which are strong and intolerant, but I think that shows how kids can exaggerate their points of view to deal with their frustration.  And once Hannah understands her family better, we grow to understand Hannah.

All-in-all, this is a fast, enjoyable read, with a serious message that’s delivered in light humor.

Dented Cans is Heather Walsh’s first book. Be sure to check out her second book, The Drake Equation.

And click here for an interview with Heather Walsh.

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Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

twisted picTwisted
Laurie Halse Anderson


This book is a little bit like a modern Catcher in the Rye and I liked it for that reason. Twisted was on our school district’s summer reading list for rising ninth graders a couple years ago. There is some mature language and content, but I think it is realistic. I think kids want to read something contemporary that has an edge to it and Anderson understands how to incorporate this element into quality writing.

In Twisted, Tyler returns to his senior year of high school, after being punished during the summer for vandalizing the school. He struggles with a poor self-image and how others, most importantly his father, perceive him. Tyler navigates through adolescence and important relationships and, like many coming-of-age stories, learns the true meaning of family and friendship.

Final scenes with his family are raw and emotional and show Anderson at her best.

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Defending Jacob by William Landay

defending jacobDefending Jacob
William Landay


What would you do if your teenage son was a murder suspect? This is what Andy and Laurie Barber face when their son Jacob is arrested for the murder of his classmate Ben Rifkin. William Landay shows how the Barbers navigate through the conflicting emotions of doubt and wanting to believe in Jacob’s innocence. And the Barbers’ marriage suffers when Andy reveals a family secret to Laurie that calls Jacob’s behavior into question. The characters explore the interesting questions of nature versus nurture and the science of behavioral genetics.

This is a compelling, plot-driven story and, despite the problems with characters and some details, there is a clear beginning, middle and end and that keeps the story moving. Its twist at the end follows a predictable rhythm, but I think it raises reader interest. I think the author raises thought-provoking questions about inherited traits.

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