Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dented Cans by Heather Walsh (3.5 stars)

About Dented Cans
(from GoodReads)

A family secret is revealed during an ill-fated—yet hilarious—trip to Disney World.

Sixteen-year-old Hannah Sampson knows her family is not what you would call normal. Her father compulsively buys dented cans and has a particular fondness for cans without labels, which are extremely discounted because their contents are a mystery. Her mother takes countless pictures of her family and then glues them down into the pages of her scrapbooks, but does not allow anyone to look at them. Ryan, Hannah’s mischievous fourteen-year-old brother, is headed straight for the remedial track at the local community college, if he’s lucky. Ben, her eight-year-old brother, is a walking sound effects machine, who prefers to communicate with noises rather than words. While Hannah is focused on escaping her working-class Connecticut suburb, she also finds herself being tugged back home as she worries about her brother Ben.

Hannah’s parents inflict one last family vacation on the Sampson children, a trip that goes comically wrong almost from the get-go. Hannah is forced to confront her family’s past in Disney World, of all places, when an emotional argument prompts her parents to disclose a secret they have been keeping from the children for sixteen years. Ultimately, she must decide whether to leave her hometown and not look back, or to focus on helping her family.


Hannah wants to escape. Like most teenagers, she's ready to strike out on her own. Her parents odd behavior and distance are really starting to weigh her down. The dented cans her father is obsessed with buying have become a symbol for their broken family.

Hannah wishes things were different. Frustrated and unsure how to make a difference, she decides to focus on her baby brother. She fears her parents have put blinders on to his real needs. Then her younger brother, Ryan, starts acting out more and more. When their parents announce a trip to Disney World, none of the kids are excited. The trip only serves to highlight Ryan's shenanigans, Ben's issues, and Hannah's frustrations.

As someone who loves to read character-driven stories, I connected with the very real portrayal of a family who has lost their way. Hannah is caring and wants her family to be closer, but she doesn't know how to fix it. Instead of being overly dramatic, she seems to have a real sense of the kind of adult she wants to become. It would have been easy to write her as a shallow, selfish teenage girl with no other thoughts other than herself and getting out.

I only wish the family secret, an excellent one that could have provided a lot of juicy story, had not been revealed so late in the book. I truly believe with another 100 pages of drama based on this secret this would be a 4.5 star read because the writing is excellent and the characters are well-developed.

Take a chance on Dented Cans. It's a quick read, and the author does an excellent job crafting a family of characters to care about and root for.

Rating: 3.5 stars

About Heather Walsh

Heather Walsh grew up in North Haven, CT, fantastically close to Pepe’s pizza.

She received a B.A. in English at Mary Washington College, which has been renamed to, drum roll please… the University of Mary Washington. This was after a failed attempt to name it Washington & Monroe University, because there aren’t enough schools honoring dead Virginian men already. Heather graduated Phi Betta Kappa and summa cum laude, which sounds kind of fancy but really means she took easy classes.

She taught high school English in Brooklyn for one year, where she loved the students but not the system. She then joined corporate America and worked there for too many years as an IT trainer, project manager, business analyst, and SQL dabbler (select * from Dented_Cans).

Her favorite writer is Alice Munro, her favorite movie is The Godfather Parts I & II (tied for first), and her favorite TV show is The Wire. She has lived in some pretty neat places, including Brooklyn (kind of before it was hipster-cool to do so), Manhattan, and San Francisco. The unfortunate result of living in these locations is that she has become an obnoxious foodie.

She currently lives in Brookline, MA with her husband, Mike DeLucia, and her two children.
You can find out more about Heather on her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Note: I received a complimentary copy for review purposes. A positive review was not guaranteed or requested; the opinions expressed are my own.