Joshua Reece is a teenager like any other. Wrestling through many challenges in his life, he struggles to find himself and a purpose like all teenagers. Facing racial injustice, separation of his parents, and heartbreak at every turn, David L. Craddock takes the reader through Josh’s world as though we are living his life. All the while, a mysterious individual leaves behind books by a dumpster with ominous notes left by someone who knows all about him.
The story is set in modern times. While it is also a vessel for a commentary on social justice tropes, it doesn’t fall victim to the wokeness that modern pop culture has fallen prey to. The encounters Josh faces are explored realistically and with great detail. The commentary is limited and refreshingly so. No Orange Man Bad symbolism, the boogeymen aren’t every white man, and a male carries the lead. This isn’t Star Trek Discovery or Picard.
One may be put off by the language choices Craddock uses in the story. There is a small amount of cursing including an F bomb. But you don’t expect modern teens to go “aw shucks” when something goes wrong. The cursing feels right and when this particular character drops the F bomb you will agree with the reason why.
Dumpster Club falls into some predictable tropes of story telling. The amount of conflict that falls upon Josh is super heavy but at the same time you know how events will turn out as you read them. Eventually you come to the ending you expect and everything is somewhat normal. This being a young adult novel, not targeted at us fully grown ups, the predictability may not be so obvious to the target readers. So the use of some cliches are forgivable.
The overall narrative is about a biracial teen boy who is struggling to find himself in a world of suck. Things don’t go as well for him through most of the book and even when things are looking up, Craddock puts Josh into a situation where it all threatens to tumble down again. Craddock’s narrative explores how Josh goes from the primal response to the intelligent one but in the end, Josh wins everything while taking the hits rather well.
In spite of the title, Dumpster Club isn’t about the books. Not really. It’s about a boy who feels his life belongs in that dumpster. It’s a redemption story, not unlike the books Josh finds around that same dumpster. The books are smelly and slimy, and are a reflection of his life as the story unfolds. We see his life echoed in the quality of the books he finds. In the end, as he collects his last books, the conditions of the books improve as we see Josh improve.
Carrying him through this story is Teagan Hana Carter, or “Tea” for short. She is our window into Josh’s soul, a soul mate if you will. Tea is the mysterious girl that is a bit of a rebel. Her life story is a little woke, as her father is the villain in her life, a very bad man. This causes Tea, who gets close to Josh, to suddenly disappear when the father comes back into the picture. Through Craddock’s masterful writing, you feel every emotion as Josh goes through his relationship with Tea. It’s a part of his story, and how he is influenced to act and interact with his environment when things get rough.
The B plot of this story is the touchy subject of racism in America, racial profiling and other social injustices that seem to be taking place in the land of the free and home of the brave. This story serves to be a commentary on the issues that are plaguing the United States and how certain perceptions can lead to overreaction and end up in violence. While Craddock does give his point of view and make his political opinions known through the events of this story, he does one thing very well that modern pop culture has been failing at time and time again: he doesn’t belittle you if your opinions differ.
With Alex Kurtzman, it’s clear as day: don’t agree with his view on alpha males? That’s fine, he’ll just turn Spock into a singing hobbit with a sister complex, and Jean-Luc Picard into an apologetic waste of flesh.
Don’t like Kathleen Kennedy’s vision for STAR WARS? No problem, she’ll just turn Luke Skywalker into a failed hermit with homicidal fantasies about killing his nephew.
With Craddock, if you don’t agree with how he sees the world, that’s fine. You aren’t punished for it and he certainly doesn’t take it out on his characters. Craddock treats his characters just like his target audience: with care and respect. If you don’t agree with some of the things (or all) of what is explored in this novel, it’s okay – you are still valued in the author’s eyes.
Meanwhile, Alex Kurtzman and Kathleen Kennedy will go on Twitter rants that rival those of the current sitting President, telling fans of their respective franchises what to go do with themselves.
Great, now we’re talking about STAR TREK instead of this book. But what Kurtzman or Kennedy lack, Craddock more than makes up for in spades. His characters are true characters, not contrived versions of archetypes we’ve seen in literature countless times. They have the making of an excellent series that I hope Craddock continues. If he has a sequel in mind, I hope he starts it soon. I would love to explore the world of Josh, Sammy, Tea and the others, in further adventures in life.
DUMPSTER CLUB is up there among my top reads and I highly recommend this to anyone of any age.