I picked up Trash (David Flicking Books 2010) by Andy Milligan and read it along side my students. During each class I would share a summary of the bit I had read during that time. Soon students in each class were clamoring to know what became of the three dumpsite boys and the treasure they found in the dump. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), one of my students begged to take the book to read for herself before I could finish writing my response.
Raphael lives, works, eats, and sleeps in the steaming dump outside a major city in a developing country. (The country is unnamed in the story, but in the author’s note, Mulligan shares that it was inspired by his time in the Philippines.) One day he finds a bag that will change his life forever. It contains a map and a key, and the police are desperate to find it and get it back. Raphael and his friends try to stay a step ahead of the police (who are not the good guys in this story) to unravel a secret that can change their lives forever. But first they must survive.
Raphael, Gardo, and Jun-Jun (known as Rat) take turns telling their story (along with the priest and teacher at the mission school by the dump). Each one has a different perspective, but they remain loyal to each other. Raphael shows great courage in his encounter with the corrupt police, but he is innocent in many ways. Gardo is like a protective older brother who can also be sneaky and cunning. Jun-Jun is full of surprises and secrets himself. Their adventures are action-packed and engrossing as they put clues together.
But it is the setting that had the most impact on me. I have read and seen stories about children who live like Raphael, making their meager living from sorting through heaps of trash, but I was horrified to learn how much of the trash consists of human waste. I have seen stories of corruption and police brutality in the news, but seeing it through Raphael’s eyes brought it to life in a much more immediate way. I won’t soon forget their story.