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In deep trouble

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Every decision we make has consequences, and that might just be the most important message of Andy Mulligan’s young adult (YA) novel Trash, our August Sunday Arts Section (SAS) Book club choice.  From the moment two 14-year-old boys, Raphael and Gardo, decide to include 11-year-old Rat in their secret discovery of a key and a cash-filled wallet, the boys set a chain of events in motion that include a battle with the police that could be deadly. 

When they decide to keep their treasure rather than opt for a reward, they broaden the gap between themselves and the police and endanger their lives even more.  They know they are playing with fire. They know the stash they have found could not have come from a good source, but they make their choices. As the boys piece together the mystery, they become even more deeply entrenched in trouble. 

The boys mistrust the police and revere people that most of society would consider to be bad characters, leading readers to question if there are any clear bad guys and good guys in the culture of poverty that defines them. In their desperate need for money, Raphael, Gardo and Rat appear to be losing sight of survival. Ironically, the money they find and the secrets leading to more money can’t keep them alive or give them better lives.  

Wrapped up in that brown paper bag is the key to a whole new world that they want, but the mystery in finding the centre of that world might just cost them their lives. Trash is a gripping YA mystery that weaves together many themes and conflicts that we all  grapple with in life: friendship, trust, family, deception, power, wealth, poverty, success and failure, to name a few. Trash shows that trust and deception are not as easy to define as we all might think. In our world, they might seem like clear-cut concepts, but in the world of Raphael, Gardo and Rat, those lines of truth and deception become blurred. 

Mulligan spares no details about the conditions in which these children live. When Raphael and Gardo visit Rat, who lives alone among rats, the descriptions of rats running around are nothing short of horrific. Rat informs his friends that this is the best place he ever lived, and they can’t see that because they have never had to live on his level. This is a novel about social, political and economic injustice. It is a shocking initiation into the world of poverty for teenage—and most likely many adult readers. I did not see the end coming. It is surprising and fitting. Trash certainly delivers for excitement, entertainment and thought-provoking content.

Discussion questions
1. Can people like Olivia, the foreigner who volunteers inside the boys’ ghetto, ever really understand a culture so foreign to her?  Did she ever have the possibility of really helping those boys?    2. While Olivia sings the praises of Rat, Gardo and Raphael, the boys are busy deceiving her. Is deception warranted if it is for survival or, in the boys’ cases, trying to get ahead in life? 
3. What role does religion play in a place like the ghetto where these boys live? Does religion offer hope and any real solution to problems or does it just make matters worse? 

• Check out the SAS Book Club group on Facebook to discuss Trash and our book club choices. Get ready for our SAS September book choice: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. 


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