By Maureen Tai, 29 October 2017
“There are values and virtues and morals; there are relationships and trust and love – and all of that is important. Money, however, is more important, and it is dripping all the time, like precious water. Some drink deep, others thirst. Without money, you shrivel and die.” – Sister Olivia
The setting is a sprawling, festering dumpsite in the Philippines.
The main protagonists are three young boys who live there in unimaginably squalid conditions, and who make their living from scavenging through filthy trash, day after day after agonizing day.
In this compelling and unique middle-grade book, Raphael, Gardo and Rat take turns to tell their harrowing and suspenseful tale of survival, speaking to the reader in their own voices. They are intermittently joined by the voices of unsuspecting aides – Father Juilliard, the manager of the dumpsite’s mission school, Sister Olivia, a tender-hearted but naive volunteer at the school, Frederico Gonz, a gravestone maker, Grace, a senator’s maid and Jose Angelico, a senator’s houseboy – all distinct perspectives which are expertly woven together to create an extremely satisfying, but harrowing read. Terrifying acts of police brutality are described simply, but with powerful effect. When the victim of the abuse is a child, it is even more horrifying for a reader who is a parent, imagining the suffering child as their own. Your heart aches for these innocent (but not witless) young boys and you root for them as you turn the pages, cheering them on as they outwit the powerful and the rich, holding your breath as they are pursued by bloodthirsty policemen.
Sadly, the corrupt, impoverished and savage world that the three heroes inhabit is not a dystopian society born of a fertile imagination. A search on the Internet confirms that dumpsites like this exist, inhabited by tens of thousands of destitute men, women and children, leading desperate, desperate lives. Graveyards with the dead in stacked boxes. Police who will imprison and kill children. For many living in a country not very far from where I live, this is all real.
Ultimately, it is the awareness of this reality that makes Trash unforgettable, and quite possibly the most gut-wrenching book I have read in a long time.
For ages 9 and up.