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Raphael lives in Behala, a slum that's grown up around a landfill site in an unnamed South American country. He's a dumpsite boy - this means he and his family scrape a living by combing through the detritus of richer people's lives. Behala replaced Smoky Mountain, another slum that got so dangerous that landslides killed dozens of people and the authorities closed it. What a home, eh? But Raphael has a smile that lights up his whole face and lifts the spirits of all those upon whom he bestows it. And he has good things in his life - a close extended family, a best friend called Gardo - and an exciting secret.

Trash by Andy Mulligan

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Wonderful adventure set in an unnamed South American country and featuring "dumpsite" children who earn their living by sorting through rubbish. Moving and thought-provoking and ever-so-slightly whimsical, it combines a mystery story and social comment to wonderful effect.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: September 2010
Publisher: David Fickling
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0385619014

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Because Raphael found something amidst the rubbish; a key that will turn his entire world upside-down...

... and will also land him in terrible danger.

You have to hand it to the team at David Fickling - they sure know how to pick 'em. I loved this unusual mystery story and it caught me by surprise, because it's a very different book to Ribblestrop, Andy Mulligan's rather super absurdist comedy set in a boarding school. But if you look carefully, the quirkiness is still there in Trash, despite the altogether more realistic setting. It's in the light touch prose, the simple honesty of its characters and the lack of preachiness in its serious themes of aid, corruption and child poverty.

It's told by multiple narrators who each breathe fresh life into the tale as they take a turn. There's Raphael himself, who's the most engaging child - kind, naive, and utterly courageous. There's Gardo - slightly more mature than his friend and more aware of the danger they're in, but determined to protect Raphael at all costs. There's Jun-Jun aka Rat, a child all alone in the middle of squalor who will break your heart. There's Father Juillard and Sister Olivia from the Mission School who become ensnared in the story through their own goodness, as they try to alleviate the poverty within the slum.

And there are the villains, who don't get a turn to speak and don't deserve one: the policemen who murder and torture, the corrupt politicians taking a slice of aid money to build personal fortunes, the prison guards open to bribes.

I just thought it was wonderful - an exciting story with engaging characters told in a clever way with spare but lyrical prose. And underneath it all is a seam of social comment that isn't in the least bit tub-thumpy but that does bring awareness and a real understanding of life for dumpsite children across the world. Trash comes highly recommended by me, and I don't have time to say any more about it because I'm off to read it again. And after that, I might read it again. And then again. You read it too.

My thanks to the good people at David Fickling for sending the book.

Those interested in issue-based adventure stories might also enjoy Torn Pages by Sally Grindley about AIDS orphans in Africa or Beyond the Barricade by Deborah Ellis about coca growers in South America. These are both a little bit grittier than Trash, so those who enjoy a little bit of quirkiness sparkling amidst the social comment would probably love Holes by Louis Sachar.

Bookinterviews.jpg Andy Mulligan was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

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