Sunday, February 3, 2013

Old School Sunday: Dump Days by Jerry Spinelli (1988)

Dump Days. by Jerry Spinelli. 1988. Little, Brown and Company. 159 pages. ISBN: 9780316807067

Best friends JD and Duke spend their summer days digging in the dump for possible treasures, terrorizing rats and dodging bullies, interacting with various quirky neighbors, and wishing for enough money for a zeppoli, an Italian ice, or a comic book. One lazy afternoon, the boys map out a perfect day, filled with all the things they love. They’ll save every penny, look for ways to make extra cash, and by the end of the summer that perfect day will be theirs. With parents, bullies, siblings, and neighbors to contend with, however, their best laid plans go swiftly awry, making them question not just their plans but even their faith in each other.

Jerry Spinelli’s books are about very different subjects and use very different tones of voice, but they all have one thing in common: heart. Spinelli understands his characters and their relationships in such a fundamental way that these fictional kids seem very real, and they stick with the reader long after the story ends. In the case of JD and Duke, it is their friendship that comes so vividly to life. The two boys are different - one is Protestant, one is Catholic, one has a big family, one has a small one, one has more permissive parents, one’s parents have stricter rules - and yet what brings them together is a desire for simple things that are just out of a kid’s grasp - snacks, comics, and video games. Though the journey toward the perfect day is the focus of the plot, the real story is in the interactions between the two boys, and in how they relate to one another with regards to their goal.

Another strength of Spinelli’s writing is how he portrays setting. Not only could I imagine the dump and the neighborhood where JD and Duke spend their time, I could also picture and hear their neighbors and family members. In this book, as in Jake and Lily and Loser, Spinelli evokes a whole world of childhood that feels very real and believable. The boys’ issues with bullies and interactions with their own siblings are some of the most memorable portions of the book. I especially like the way Spinelli gives characters little quirks, like the toddler who likes to go outside without clothes and the bully who has to wear a special shoe because one leg is shorter than the other. These are the kinds of things notice about each other, and the tiny details that resonate with readers.

Dump Days is the rare book on the shelf at my library that looks old and outdated, but is checked out almost all the time, especially in the summer. Though it is out of print right now, I don’t see any reason why a contemporary reader couldn’t pick it up and enjoy it. Readers who loved Maniac Magee will want to read this one, too, because it is set in the same town, and the legend of Maniac Magee is mentioned in passing by JD as he narrates the story. Like most Spinelli stories, this is also a great one for dealing with bullying and discriminations, as both issues become important to the story.

I borrowed Dump Days from my local public library.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

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