Fourteen-year-old "dumpsite boy" Raphael has never found anything valuable in the trash mounds he has combed over since age three. At least not until he unearths a leather bag containing a map, wallet, and key. Keeping his discovery secret from the police, who quickly come looking for the bag, Raphael goes in search of the key's locker, with two friends in tow. Soon they are in the middle of a suspenseful mission involving a secret code, a corrupt politician, and a search for six million stolen dollars. The three authentic boys at the heart of this well-constructed debut novel--sweet Raphael, serious Gardo, and spirited Rat--take turns narrating most of their story (though other voices are also heard); in distinct voices, they provide harrowing details about their lives in the dump. This gripping book engages readers both as an adventure and as a social justice story; clues suggest that it's set in a Third World Latin American country. The story wraps a bit neatly, but readers will be satisfied by the cinematic conclusion and the noble decision the heroes make. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
“Trash is a compelling read. The action is riveting and the secret codes throughout will appeal mystery fans” - School Library Journal, starred review
“This gripping book engages readers both as an adventure and as a social justice story. Readers will be satisfied by the cinematic conclusion and the noble decision the heroes make.” - Publishers Weekly, starred review
"The three boys, and others, act as alternating narrators of the story, giving vivid descriptions of their lives. In spite of this, the boys’ hope and determination for justice and the dilemmas they face with so much courage will impress readers. Recommended." - Library Media Connection
VOYA - KaaVonia Hinton-Johnson
Stolen money, homicide, corruption, and socioeconomics are connected to Raphael, Gardo, and Rat, the three boys at the center of this mystery. The boys live in an impoverished, developing country at some point in the future, where they work as rubbish boys. They root around garbage bins through trash and stuppa (i.e., human waste) looking for things to eat, sell, or use. Few residents of Behala have toilets or running water and many live in boxes, so finding items like paper, plastic, cloth, and an occasional zucchini can make a difference for the boys and their loved ones. From the very beginning, the book moves rapidly. Raphael finds a wallet stuffed with eleven hundred pesos, a map, and a key while digging in a Dumpster. His good fortune (or so it seems at the time) changes the boys' lives and forces them on a journey filled with adventure and danger as they set out to find Jose Angelico, the owner of the wallet. Some readers might wonder what makes the boys' society futuristic or different from what some citizens of developing countries face today, while others will simply take in the story, noting the challenges associated with extreme poverty and disenfranchisement. Using multiple narrators, the mystery behind what happened to Jose Angelico and why police officers are involved unfolds dramatically from several perspectives, including the thoughts of a duped home-mother and a priest. This is an enjoyable novel with fresh, multidimensional characters that will appeal to readers interested in social-justice issues. Reviewer: KaaVonia Hinton-Johnson
Children's Literature - Ellen Welty
Raphael lives in the dump of a large third-world city with hundreds of other kids and some adults like him. They pick through garbage for a living, looking for anything that they can sell for a few pennies. One day Raphael finds something special, a nice leather bag with a wallet, a map, and a key. He knows that it is something special because the police come looking for it the same night. A chance remark from his aunt focuses the attention of the police on him but with his friends Gardo and Rat, Raphael decides to keep the bag. They want to find out what makes it important enough for the police to offer a sizeable reward for its return. Their quest for the owner of the wallet and his secret puts them in grave danger from others who want the secret too. Dishonesty and theft are their survival skills and they encounter brutality and danger but they also experience kindness and charity. The poverty is horrific, the atmosphere is tense, the pace is increasingly breathless and there is doubt until the end about the outcome, but even the most superficially tough teenagers will appreciate the ending. This would be a great discussion novel for a young adult literature class or for a class studying social conditions and poverty. Reviewer: Ellen Welty
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Raphael, Gardo, and Rat are "dumpsite boys" who sift through mountains of rubbish in an unnamed country, looking for scraps to sell. Raphael finds a bag containing a key, a map, some money, and an ID for Jose Angélico. Soon the police arrive, offering a reward for the bag. Not trusting the authorities to deliver, the friends hide the bag and attempt to figure out the meaning of its contents. Rat determines that the key opens a luggage locker at Central Station, where they find a letter addressed to an inmate named Gabriel Olondriz containing a string of numbers, dots, and slashes. A little research uncovers that Jose, a houseboy accused of stealing $6 million from the Vice President, died during a prison interrogation. Meanwhile, the police intensify their search and Raphael is arrested and roughed up. Now fully aware of the danger, the boys are determined to deliver the coded message to Gabriel and to hunt for the missing money. Featuring numerous narrators, Andy Mulligan's novel (David Fickling Books, 2010) is well-suited to this full-cast production. Chapters even open with helpful cues ("Raphael again," "Gardo here"). Accents vary, but overall the readings are excellent. Only Rat's thicker accent is inconsistent and sometimes difficult to understand. Reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire, this unique adventure seamlessly incorporates secret codes, breathless getaways, corrupt bureaucrats, and a subtle moral about kids growing up in a town made of trash but deserving much better.—Amy Pickett, Ridley High School Folsom, PA
In an unnamed country (a thinly veiled Philippines), three teenage boys pick trash for a meager living. A bag of cash in the trash might be--well, not their ticket out of poverty but at least a minor windfall. With 1,100 pesos, maybe they can eat chicken occasionally, instead of just rice. Gardo and Raphael are determined not to give any of it to the police who've been sniffing around, so they enlist their friend Rat. In alternating and tightly paced points of view, supplemented by occasional other voices, the boys relate the intrigue in which they're quickly enmeshed. A murdered houseboy, an orphaned girl, a treasure map, a secret code, corrupt politicians and 10,000,000 missing dollars: It all adds up to a cracker of a thriller. Sadly, the setting relies on Third World poverty tourism for its flavor, as if this otherwise enjoyable caper were being told by Olivia, the story's British charity worker who muses with vacuous sentimentality on the children that "break your heart" and "change your life." Nevertheless, a zippy and classic briefcase-full-of-money thrill ride. (Thriller. 12-14)
Read an Excerpt
My name is Raphael Fernandez and I am a dumpsite boy.
People say to me, 'I guess you just never know what you'll find, sifting through rubbish! Today could be your lucky day.' I say to them, 'Friend, I think I know what I find.' And I know what everyone finds, because I know what we've been finding for all the years I've been working, which is eleven years. It's the one word: stuppa, which means--and I'm sorry if I offend--it's our word for human muck. I don't want to upset anyone, that's not my business here. But there's a lot of things hard to come by in our sweet city, and one of the things too many people don't have is toilets and running water. So when they have to go, they do it where they can. Most of those people live in boxes, and the boxes are stacked up tall and high. So, when you use the toilet, you do it on a piece of paper, and you wrap it up and put it in the trash. The trash bags come together. All over the city, trash bags get loaded onto carts, and from carts onto trucks or even trains--you'd be amazed at how much trash this city makes. Piles and piles of it, and it all ends up here with us. The trucks and trains never stop, and nor do we. Crawl and crawl, and sort and sort.
It's a place they call Behala, and it's rubbish-town. Three years ago it was Smoky Mountain, but Smoky Mountain got so bad they closed it down and shifted us along the road. The piles stack up--and I mean Himalayas: you could climb for ever, and many people do . . . up and down, into the valleys. The mountains go right from the docks to the marshes, one whole long world of steaming trash. I am one of the rubbish boys, picking through the stuff this city throws away.
'But you must find interesting things?' someone said to me. 'Sometimes, no?'
We get visitors, you see. It's mainly foreigners visiting the Mission School, which they set up years ago and just about stays open. I always smile, and I say, 'Sometimes, sir! Sometimes, ma'am!'
What I really mean is, No, never--because what we mainly find is stupp.
'What you got there?' I say to Gardo.
'What d'you think, boy?' says Gardo.
And I know. The interesting parcel that looked like something nice wrapped up? What a surprise! It's stupp, and Gardo's picking his way on, wiping his hands on his shirt and hoping to find something we can sell. All day, sun or rain, over the hills we go.
You want to come see? Well, you can smell Behala long before you see it. It must be about two hundred football pitches big, or maybe a thousand basketball courts--I don't know: it seems to go on for ever. Nor do I know how much of it is stupp, but on a bad day it seems like most of it, and to spend your life wading through it, breathing it, sleeping beside it--well . . . maybe one day you'll find 'something nice'. Oh yes.
Then one day I did.
I was a trash boy since I was old enough to move without help and pick things up. That was what?--three years old, and I was sorting.
Let me tell you what we're looking for.
Plastic, because plastic can be turned into cash, fast--by the kilo. White plastic is best, and that goes in one pile; blue in the next.
Paper, if it's white and clean--that means if we can clean it and dry it. Cardboard also.
Tin cans--anything metal. Glass, if it's a bottle. Cloth or rags of any kind--that means the occasional T-shirt, a pair of pants, a bit of sack that wrapped something up. The kids round here, half the stuff we wear is what we found, but most we pile up, weigh and sell. You should see me, dressed to kill. I wear a pair of hacked-off jeans and a too-big T-shirt that I can roll up onto my head when the sun gets bad. I don't wear shoes--one, because I don't have any, and two, because you need to feel with your feet. The Mission School had a big push on getting us boots, but most of the kids sold them on. The trash is soft, and our feet are hard as hooves.
Rubber is good. Just last week we got a freak delivery of old tyres from somewhere. Snapped up in minutes, they were, the men getting in first and driving us off. A half-good tyre can fetch half a dollar, and a dead tyre holds down the roof of your house. We get the fast food too, and that's a little business in itself. It doesn't come near me and Gardo, it goes down the far end, and about a hundred kids sort out the straws, the cups and the chicken bones. Everything turned, cleaned and bagged up--cycled down to the weighers, weighed and sold. Onto the trucks that take it back to the city, round it goes. On a good day I'll make two hundred pesos. On a bad, maybe fifty? So you live day to day and hope you don't get sick. Your life is the hook you carry, there in your hand, turning the trash.
'What's that you got, Gardo?'
'Stupp. What about you?'
Turn over the paper. 'Stupp.'
I have to say, though: I'm a trash boy with style. I work with Gardo most of the time, and between us we move fast. Some of the little kids and the old people just poke and poke, like everything's got to be turned over--but among the stupp, I can pull out the paper and plastic fast, so I don't do so bad. Gardo's my partner, and we always work together. He looks after me.
From the Hardcover edition.