Fifteen-year-old Aaron lives amongst the rubbish piles in the slums of Cairo. His job? To collect broken glass. His life? Wasted. His hope? To find a future he can believe in. Today in Cairo, Egypt, there is a city within a city: a city filled with garbage--literally. As one of the Zabbaleen people, Aaron makes his living sorting through waste. When his family kicks him out, his only alternatives are to steal, beg, or take the most nightmarish garbage-collecting job of all. ...
Fifteen-year-old Aaron lives amongst the rubbish piles in the slums of Cairo. His job? To collect broken glass. His life? Wasted. His hope? To find a future he can believe in. Today in Cairo, Egypt, there is a city within a city: a city filled with garbage--literally. As one of the Zabbaleen people, Aaron makes his living sorting through waste. When his family kicks him out, his only alternatives are to steal, beg, or take the most nightmarish garbage-collecting job of all.
A strong narrative voice captures multiple viewpoints of the “Zabbaleen,” Coptic Christian citizens of Cairo’s “Garbage City,” while closely following 15-year-old orphan Aaron, the title character, as he struggles through the challenges of daily survival. Perera (Guantanamo Boy) draws a vivid portrait of the community’s squalid living conditions, as people eat, sleep, and work amid piles of rotting garbage collected for recycling, while dreaming of better futures. Beautiful Shareen resists marriage to elderly, “wizened” Daniel; Jacob “longs to make a name for himself”; Rachel hopes to be a veterinarian; and Aaron, living in a tenement hovel with his hostile stepfather’s family, finds beauty in glass and dreams of one day owning a perfume shop. Meanwhile, stench, heat, filth, hunger, danger, physical pain, and grief from too many early deaths contrast with the “open, clean, beautiful lane leading to the limestone carvings and statues surrounding the church,” the institution that holds the community together. When Aaron’s stealing leads to ostracism, the people who correct him also protect him. A powerful rendering of human struggle, resilience, and hope. Ages 13–up. Agent: Charlie Viney, the Viney Agency. (Mar.)
- Jess deCourcy Hinds
Fifteen-year-old Aaron of Cairo, Egypt, scavenges for recyclable glass for money—and love. Colorful, light-catching glass sustains his artistic spirit. The search for beauty makes the pain of punishing physical labor worthwhile, and helps Aaron dream of a better life. This second novel by Perera, author of Guantanamo Boy (Whitman, 2011/VOYA December 2011), illuminates the lives of Coptic Christians known as the Zabbaleen, a proud, family-oriented, and downtrodden religious minority who handle the majority of Cairo's waste. Aaron and his friends live in deplorable conditions: eating and sleeping in the very same rooms where mountains of garbage are stored. Young readers will be drawn into the compelling early pages; however, they may lose interest because Perera crowds the novel with too many subplots and secondary characters. Aaron never gets center stage in his own story, so he fails to develop as a believable character. Perera often summarizes his feelings rather than showing them. For example, we are told, not shown that Aaron "hates" his stepbrother because he is a "creep" and a "bully," but we are not emotionally prepared for Aaron to be angry enough to want to poison his brother. This violent streak seems uncharacteristic. Mid-chapter shifts in point-of-view, and a confusing labeling of chapters may add to young readers' difficulty relating to the book. For example, "Chapter 3: Shareen" is mostly told from Aaron's, not Shareen's, perspective, which breaks from the convention readers know. Despite its flaws, this book offers an eye-opening view of Egypt. It will appeal to readers of Patricia McCormick's Sold (Hyperion 2008/VOYA December 2006). Reviewer: Jess deCourcy Hinds
- Paula McMillen
Perera, no stranger to writing about difficult topics, here tackles the realities of growing up in a reviled and persecuted community of garbage collectors and recyclers, the Zabbaleen—mainly Coptic Christians living on the outskirts of Cairo in an abandoned quarry community called Mokattam. Fifteen-year old Aaron's mother has died and he now has only an uncaring step-father and an abusive step-brother to call family. He is the official glass sorter for the bags of garbage he and his step-brother daily bring home from the alleys of Cairo. Aaron has become obsessed with the displays, smell and textures of glass in an elite perfumery and, finding the back door left open one early morning, steals several bottles of perfume. When he is discovered, his community and family shun him, and he is compelled to join the lowest of the low, the collectors of unprocessed medical waste, in order to keep from starving. Aaron shelters for a time with the ponies that pull the garbage carts; they and he are tended by his love interest, Rachel. There are too many descriptions of the awful conditions and too many side stories to make this an easy read. The "resolution" of Aaron's marrying Rachel and coming to recognize the important role the Zabbaleen play in coping with tons of refuse are hardly hopeful. Given the recent events in Egypt, this book offers a unique look at one group of people fighting to survive amid shifting political sands. A more accessible book dealing with a similar situation would be the photo-essay of children living in Guatemala City, Out of the Dump by Franklin and McGirr. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Aaron, 15, lives outside Cairo, Egypt. He is a Zabbaleen, one of the countless Christian garbage collectors who make a living by sorting and selling refuse for recycling. Aaron's specialty is glass collecting. Throughout the book, he struggles with being able to do the right thing and often fails. His close bonds with his family; friends; and Rachel, a Mokattam girl who cares for the garbage-cart ponies, are indicative of a tight-knit community. The oppressive environment of living in the filth and slop of a city is ever present. In fact, it is brought up so often, it feels more like the story is being told by a visitor who never acclimates to the conditions than by a native, born and living among the refuse. The descriptions of the mounds of oozing garbage are heavy-handed at times and tend to distract from the story's action and emotion. The pacing of the novel is uneven. Aaron seems to have multiple "epiphanies" that don't result in him changing his behavior in any significant way. In the end, with Rachel as his wife, Aaron learns that, despite its obvious shortcomings, he can be proud of the community in which he lives and works. Some of the characters are unevenly drawn; the strongest element of the story is the fact that the author wants readers to know who these people are and why they should be appreciated. For a moving, yet exciting story set in the world of garbage pickers, suggest Andy Mulligan's Trash (Random, 2010). The setting is still powerful, but that story will appeal to a much wider audience.—Karen Elliott, Grafton High School, WI
A 15-year-old Coptic Christian struggles to survive on the outskirts of modern-day Cairo. As one of the Zabbaleen people who collect, sort and recycle the vast amounts of garbage generated in the capital, Aaron is at the bottom of Egyptian society. Yet, regardless of how the rest of the country may view them, the Zabbaleen live by a basic moral code: "Strive to do your best even in the worst conditions. Don't steal. Don't harm. Don't lie." Since his mother's death, Aaron is finding it more difficult to follow this code. He lives at the mercy of his negligent stepfather, Hosi. Dreaming of a more beautiful world, Aaron spends his days collecting glass from the alleys in the city and avoiding the blows and taunts of his stepbrother, Lijah. He navigates the narrow confines of his life, spending his little free time with his friends and trying to stay out of trouble. The wondrous bottles and aromas at Omar's Perfume Emporium beckon to him, and he finds himself stealing bottles and hiding them in the village. Perera takes teen readers into a new world in this often-eloquent novel, if they have the patience to savor the rich descriptions and wait for the plot to pick up speed. A novel of hope and redemption in the most unlikely of settings. (author's note) (Fiction. 13 & up)
…an exquisitely rendered portrait of a little-known world…The Glass Collector is less a plot-driven novel than a series of character portraits and snapshots, some of which are taken directly from the news…The best part is its full-blooded portrait of Aaron, a likable boy seeking love in the grimmest of environments and moving between self-contempt and pride in his outcast identity.
—The New York Times Book Review
Anna Perera was born in London to an Irish mother and a Sri Lankan father. She worked as an English teacher in two secondary schools in London, and later became responsible for a unit for boys excluded from mainstream schools. She lives in Hampshire, England. Her first young adult novel was Guantanamo Boy. www.annaperera.com