Friday, July 22, 2011

Trash by Andy Mulligan

You can find some interesting things looking through a person’s garbage, but Raphael Fernandez finds stuppa most of the time. Stuppa is human waste, and it’s a decent way to describe Raphael and his family’s situation. They live in a shanty-town called Behala, where unwanted possessions pile high and residents make homes, food, and their livelihood out of the things that others throw away. Such is the life of a rubbish-boy.

One day Raphael finds something infinitely better than stuppa though: it's a bag containing a key, a map, and a wallet filled with more money than Raphael is ever seen. When the cops come looking for the bag, offering money to the people of Behala for it’s safe return, Raphael realizes the importance of his find, but the cops seem a lot more sinister than thankful.

With the help of his friends Gardo and Jun-Jun, Raphael decides to keep the bag hidden, and find out where it came from. This choice leads the three boys on an adventure that they never dreamed of, where few can be trusted, corruption runs rampant, and seemingly ordinary books hold secret codes.

Our three friends jump back and forth as narrators, slowly offering a sense of completion to the mystery of who owned this bag and what were they trying to accomplish before it was thrown away. Each boy has a different attitude. Raphael is optimistic, Gardo is the most serious and cautious, and Jun-Jun, or Rat as everyone calls him, is the most complicated of the three. He’s an fascinating blend of streetwise, innocence, and vulnerability. Each boy is essential in order to succeed on this journey.

On initial glance the book seems like a dystopia set in the future, but Raphael and Gardo’s situation of living in and sifting through garbage is a third-world reality. They are treated as less than human, and suffer at the hands of authority figures at times. A couple of missionaries help the children, but ultimately it is their burden, their mystery to solve. The book also instructs readers on how to use the code that the boys encountered. Finding Trash by Andy Mulligan is like finding a diamond ring in a mountain of stuppa: dirty business, but worth it.


david elzey said...

on the one hand i like the premise of what's described here, and on the other i fear a sort of cultural appropriation of a mystery grafted onto a third-world setting.

i think that a compelling story could be built up around the life of kids raised in these settings, but i don't know that it would require a find as complicated (or potentially convoluted) as this to hold a reader's interest.

i think i'll still check it out though.

Helen's Book Blog said...

I liked this book when I read it a couple months ago. The emphasis really is on the mystery, but we get a look into the lives of the very poor at the same time. I think exposing young readers to lives outside their own is so important and this book does just that.

Sarah said...

I thought this story was so much more than the mystery - it's the boys from the trash heap that won my heart.

You should definitely check it out!

Anonymous said...

I have wanted to read this book but have not found the time yet. I will have to check it out soon.