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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
Trash - Andy Mulligan Every day Raphael, Gardo, and Rat, three "dumpsite" boys, slog through a mountain of trash, searching for anything that can be resold for cash to feed themselves and their families. Up to their ankles and sometimes knees, in mostly "stupp" (feces wrapped in paper) and food waste, they work, buoyed in part by the hope that somewhere in the piles of discards is that one big find, the treasure that could change their lives.

One day Raphael finds it. The life altering bit of rubbish is a black bag containing a wallet. Within that wallet is all that remains of a man's life. As the boys explore the mysteries within the wallet, they find themselves drawn into a conspiracy involving millions of dollars and a corrupt government official who will do anything, including hurting children, to reclaim the money and protect his name.

The premise of Trash is strong. Crushing poverty. Corrupt politicians. Daring boys, who perhaps carried by the inherent immortality of youth, are willing to enter the belly of the beast for the truth. All great story elements. So why was Trash ultimately disappointing?

It's a great idea, but the execution is hopelessly marred by the use of too many point of view (POV)characters. The story begins, rightly so, with Raphael and his discovery of the bag/wallet. He tells the story for a while, before it switches to Gardo. The story eventually switches over to the last of the trio, Rat (Jun-jun), but not before spending some time with Father Juilliard, a priest who run the local Mission School. There are also several chapters devoted to Sister Olivia, a volunteer teacher at the school. Toward the end of the story, yet another adult POV is used.

All the adult POVs are unnecessary, but the worst offender is probably Sister Olivia. Olivia is a young, rich, American woman who stumbles upon the dump while on vacation and is so taken by the plight of the dumpsite children that she stays on as a volunteer. I imagine some readers will find her naive and angelic. I found her stupid and cloyingly sweet. It felt as though her POV was introduced simply to prove that the children's plight was appalling. As though I wouldn't believe the children's account of working in shit. No, apparently I needed a wealthy white woman to really explain how horrible it is.


The effect is that this only serves to distance me from the important characters in the story. This is Raphael, Gardo and Rat's story. Olivia and Father Juilliard's pontificating on the children's plight just gets in the way of the children's ... plight.

There are also many instances where the narrative breaks the 4th wall. As a rule, I don't mind it if story characters address me directly. But in this case, where the POV is already changing too much, the effect is jarring. (Ironic, since the device is often used to try to smooth over POV transitions.)

Thanks to the pointless POV changes, the story doesn't really pick up pace and momentum until the last third, which is exciting. But again, even at the end, the story wanders away from the boys, with a letter explaining another character's actions.

Honestly? Some things are best left off the page.