31 May 2012
Review 39: Trash by Andy Mulligan
I was far more impressed with this than I was expecting and it has gone down very well with my teenage readers as well. Whilst easy to read and relatively simple, it is filled with excellent storytelling, exciting twist and turns, wonderful characters and much to think about. A really worthy contender for the Carnegie prize this year and a novel that will be read and loved for years to come, I imagine.
First Line: "My name is Raphael Fernandez and I am a dumpsite boy."
Why I read it: It is on the Carnegie shortlist which I am currently reading and shadowing with my Book Club students at school.
Who I would recommend it to: I can hardly think of anyone who wouldn't fall for this book. An easy read with real depth, it's perfect for its intended audience.
The book is told from the perspective of various character but our first narrator and where the heart of the story lies is with Raphael. Raphael lives with his aunt and various family members on the Behala dump in an unspecified city and country. Mulligan said he was inspired by the dump he saw when he visited Manila in the Philippines and as the currency in the book is pesos and there are placenames, such as Smoky Mountain, that link back to the Philippines it can be assumed it is nominally set there but the problems and the people are broader than their setting. Raphael has always lived on the dump and makes his living by finding and selling paper, plastic and other materials that can be sold on. The story begins when Raphael finds something out of the ordinary amidst the rubbish, a bag with a wallet and letter inside. When the police visit the dump later to ask if anyone found anything, Raphael realises he has discovered something important and with his friends Gardo and Rat, sets out to find out what he has found.
The journey takes them to the police station for a horrifying interrogation of Raphael, to train station lockers, to a corrupt politicians house, to a poor prison and to a graveyard on the Day of the Dead. The story has moments of hope and beauty interspersed with moments of terror and cruelty. The aforementioned interrogation of Raphael as the police try to get out of him any information about the bag is horrible to read as they hang him out of the window and threaten to drop him if he doesn't give them information. The descriptions of the dump are equally horrifying, based as it is the way real life children are forced to work on dumps to survive. The grim and corrupt prison is another sobering look at the way that some cities and countries deal with people who challenge corruption, as the prisoner that is visited has been incarcerated for life for his accusations against one of the city's prominent politicians who has been siphoning off international aid money for his own use.
As well as being a challenging look at the corruption and destitution of the city, the books is also a thriller and mystery as the boys follow clues to try and finish what was started by the man who's bag they found. Some of the final scenes in the graveyard amidst the candles and flowers of the Day of the Dead celebrations are beautifully written, I had a wonderful picture in my head as Mulligan describes the colours and lights against the boys desperate struggle to work out the final clue. The book is a real page turner as you try to work out alongside the boys how the men who left the clues were trying to take down the politician and whether the boys are going to succeed in helping.
I liked the device of telling the story from the perspectives of different characters. I have read some reviews that said they found it confusing who was speaking, but Mulligan does make sure that characters introduce themselves at the start of their chapters so if you're paying attention, it's not really desperately confusing. I like hearing the perspective from the boys who had ended up at the dumps for different reasons as well as a volunteer worker at the charity school dump and a priest.
I found this to be a really successful novel which will appeal to adult readers as well as teenage readers and I can see why it made the Carnegie shortlist (although it was written nearly two years ago so I'm a little confused as to why it is on this years shortlist). It is exciting and thought provoking with really wonderful characters in the three main boys. It has a great mystery story as well as plenty to challenge teenage readers about the way children their age live in other cities.