Friday, August 09, 2013

Intense, Affecting Trash Leaves Me With Two Words: Read It

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For the past eleven years, 14-year-old Raphael Fernández has spent his days picking through trash at the Behala dumpsite.  It's a stinky, smelly job.  A dangerous one, too.  If Raphael places his bare foot in the wrong spot, he could sink under the mounds of garbage and suffocate.  Or step on a dirty needle.  Or burst open a bag of stuppa (poop).  It's all happened to other trash boys.  Given a choice, Raphael would leave the reeking trash heaps far, far behind.  But he doesn't, so day after day, he crawls through piles of refuse, hoping to find something—plastic, metal, glass, clean paper, rubber, etc.—that can be traded for cash, which he can use to buy food for himself and his family.  

Then, one ordinary day, Raphael does find something.  Something that's not only mysterious, but also valuable.  So valuable, in fact, that the police are going to great lengths to find it.  Raphael knows he should turn over his find, but he can't quite make himself part with it.  If he can solve the treasure's riddles, he can get enough money to free himself, his family and his friends from a lifetime of trudging through garbage just to survive.  With the police on his trail, Raphael doesn't have much time, but he has to try.  It's the only chance he'll ever have to rise out of the desperate poverty that drags him down.  Racing against time and imminent capture, Raphael and two of his comrades embark on a frantic journey to find a treasure that can save them all.  If only they can survive long enough to enjoy it.

Although the squalor Andy Mulligan describes in his upper middle grade novel, Trash, seems like pure fiction, it's not.  It's a scene the author witnesses for himself every day.  Behala, itself, is a made-up dumpsite, but it's based on a real one in Manila, which sits next to the school where Mulligan teaches.  Makeshift homes really do rim the garbage dump.  Their occupants, says the writer, "really aren't extras in a movie, these people really are living there forever, sorting out the stuff that I put down my rubbish chute."  It's unfathomable, but reality for many in The Philippines and other countries in the developing world.  The book's thrilling plot and colorful characters, though, came straight out of Mulligan's imagination.  Those elements, coupled with the dramatic setting, make for an intense, exciting story that tugs at the heartstrings while celebrating courage and hope.  It's not an easy read, but it is a compelling and affecting one.  About a month has passed since I finished Trash and let me tell you, Raphael and his buddies are still very much on my mind.  That's how deep of an impression this novel makes.  Two words:  Read it.

But, first, watch this:

    

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Rent Collector by Camron Wright)

Grade: 

If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, and intense situations   

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed a copy of Trash from the library at my children's elementary school as part of my volunteer work with the school's reading program.  

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