Raphael and Gardo both live on top of an enormous trash heap called Behala. Three years ago, they used to live on another giant trash heap called Smokey Mountain. Sound familiar? Though the setting is unnamed, Filipinos will immediately recognize their country in this Young Adult novel. They will recognize the street children who scavenge through the trash for anything they could sell, the police who are feared to be corrupt enemies of the people, and the politicians who not only steal, but kill to protect what they have wrongly taken. The Story
When Raphael finds a bag in the trash that holds some money, a key, a map, and an ID, his life changes forever. His friends Gardo and Rat accompany him on his quest to get to the bottom of the mystery he feels compelled to solve. As you join them on their journey, you will notice how helpless these three boys are—boys who have nothing to lose but their lives—yet they soldier on to right a wrong that they aren’t even that certain of. Their adventure leads them to uncover a huge national mystery, all along taking you through the despair and the hopelessness brought about by their poverty and place in society.
Since the book is for young adults, it is not hard to read. Though the subject matter can be quite heavy, the action keeps you flipping the pages as fast as you can in order to know what happens next. This is the book you not only can’t put down, you stash it in your bag so you can pull it out when you find yourself with a free moment.
The point of view
The characters that narrate the story shift from Raphael to Gardo to Rat to the priest they talk to and even to a social worker they meet. This keeps the story interesting and more real.
The settingThis is the main reason why Filipinos should read this book. Though not a Filipino, Andy Mulligan captures the dark side of the country very well. He not only realistically presents its gritty images, he effectively communicates the hopelessness that comes with having no money. At the same time, he manages to convey how powerful money really is, especially in a country where most of its citizens don’t have it.
Though book is definitely an experience in itself, the letdown is quite a big one if you know Philippine reality. If you are reading the book as an outsider who has no idea about Smokey Mountain and who cannot fathom children begging in the streets, much more scavenging through trash every day just to eat, the book’s ending may be satisfying.However, if you are aware of the poverty in the provinces (one reason why most people wish to find their way to Manila to try to earn a living), and if you are aware of the typhoons that hit and deprive the fishermen of food and a livelihood, you know that the story’s ending cannot realistically be a happy one. At the same time, you know that a story like this is too real to have a happy ending that does not change the dynamic of the entire country. That said, it is still a book we must all read, even just to shake us up a little bit.
Bookshelf Meter: 4 stars
1 star – Don’t even bother.
2 stars – Since there’s nothing else to read…
3 stars – Worth a borrowing from a friend, but not buying your own
4 stars – Deserves a spot on your nightstand.
5 stars – Grab this book now and forget the one you’re reading!
Olivia has been writing ever since she can remember. She has written for health, teen, parenting, and children's magazines. Her latest endeavor is being a mom to her three-year-old daughter—her toughest assignment yet. Swap stories with her at email@example.com.