by Andy Mulligan

David Fickling Books 2010

ISBN13: 9780385752145


Plot Summary

Raphael and his friends have grown up in a slum town built amidst a rubbish dump, spending their days sorting through rubbish for anything that they can sell to get money for food. They have all dreamed of finding something valuable but when Raphael finds a bag containing money, a key and a letter life nothing will ever be the same again. In their excitement, they jump through the garbage piles for joy but their elation is soon crushed as police officers enter the dump and grill everyone who inhabits it. Soon they focus on Raphael and Gardo and as they becoming increasingly brutal in their questioning and threats, the boys seek assistance from “Rat” to hide the cash and belongings.

Aptly named, Rat lives in the dark tunnels of garbage with rats who over populate each crevice. As the police and others begin to close in on the boys, the three know their lives are in grave danger.

They must solve a mystery and decide how to handle the new-found fortune and all of the consequences that arise from it. They cannot go back, and they have no desire to. But in order to go forward they must be older and wiser than their years. As the book comes to its wild finish, the boys relish their Robin Hood-inspired freedom as they plan their escape from the oppressive garbage heap they have spent their lives in and head out to seek their own fortunes, which are no longer materials things but dreams and happiness worth digging deeply for.

Critical Evaluation

While throughout the book the author does not state the location, in opening comments, he does site that he was inspired to write the book after visiting the Philippines and observing the young and old living in garbage dumps, picking the refuge. This story does not spend much time exploring the hardships or emotional deficits of the characters Raphael, Gardo and Rat. Instead, we see them living their life as they have learned and adapted to it. In absolute and profound poverty, with each other as family. The story is told from many points of view aside from the three main characters and when we see this horrific world through the eyes of Olivia Weston, the temporary house-mother, and   Father Juilliard, head-master at the Mission School. It is bleak and stripped bare of dignity and hope.

It is Father Julliard who gives the boys hope and inspires them to fulfill his dream of returning to Sampalo to live out his days quietly, away from misery and poverty. To go home to his roots, fish away his last days and live his life in peace. He gives the boys a dream, a glimmer of hope for something different, something they cannot have imagined without him. No stink, just a house on a beach in the sand. Something more valuable than gold, Father Julliard gives the trash boys hope and something to dream of… and the means to make it come true.

Reader’s Annotation

With no hope of a better life, a large population of the poor residents in Manila pick and sort garbage. Living and working in squalor among the mounds of filth, stink and desecration both young and old eek out a brutal existence. You never know when you might find something truly valuable and change your life forever.

Information about the Author

Andy Mulligan was brought up in the south of London. He worked as a theatre director for ten years before travels in Asia prompted him to retrain as a teacher. He has taught English and drama in India, Brazil, the Philippines and the UK. He now divides his time between London and Manila. – Goodreads Author

Genre: Fiction; Realistic Fiction

Awards: Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of the Year for Fiction (2010), Gouden Lijst for vertaald boek (2012), Red House Children’s Book Award Shortlist (2011), YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (Top Ten) (2011)

Content Area: Homelessness and Poverty; Friendship; Survival Sensitivity

Booktalk Ideas

There is a critical discussion point on the importance of money which is at the heart of the story, and one of the most respected characters (an aid worker) reasons that “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… without money you shrivel and die.”

Text Measures/Reading Level:

Quantitative: Lexile Measure®860

Interest Level: Grades 6 – 9

Grade level Equivalent: 5.5


The themes and concepts in this book of relationships, friendships, doing the right thing in the face of so many easier (but wrong) choices makes this powerful book a valuable asset in any collection. The book does contain some adult content with objectionable language and violence.

Always check the American Library Association website for strategies and tips in handling challenges to library materials at

Additional/Digital Content:

Author Website:

Movie Trailer (set for release in the UK in 2014)

Why This Book?

I was lucky enough to meet the author last winter and he gave me a copy of this book. It sits on my “special shelf” and I recommend it to teens, especially reluctant readers, whenever I can. I can’t wait for the movie.


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