The Glass Collector

294p. Albert Whitman. Mar. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-8075-2948-5. LC number unavailable.
Gr 9 Up—Aaron, 15, lives outside Cairo, Egypt. He is a Zabbaleen, one of the countless Christian garbage collectors who make a living by sorting and selling refuse for recycling. Aaron's specialty is glass collecting. Throughout the book, he struggles with being able to do the right thing and often fails. His close bonds with his family; friends; and Rachel, a Mokattam girl who cares for the garbage-cart ponies, are indicative of a tight-knit community. The oppressive environment of living in the filth and slop of a city is ever present. In fact, it is brought up so often, it feels more like the story is being told by a visitor who never acclimates to the conditions than by a native, born and living among the refuse. The descriptions of the mounds of oozing garbage are heavy-handed at times and tend to distract from the story's action and emotion. The pacing of the novel is uneven. Aaron seems to have multiple "epiphanies" that don't result in him changing his behavior in any significant way. In the end, with Rachel as his wife, Aaron learns that, despite its obvious shortcomings, he can be proud of the community in which he lives and works. Some of the characters are unevenly drawn; the strongest element of the story is the fact that the author wants readers to know who these people are and why they should be appreciated. For a moving, yet exciting story set in the world of garbage pickers, suggest Andy Mulligan's Trash (Random, 2010). The setting is still powerful, but that story will appeal to a much wider audience.—Karen Elliott, Grafton High School, WI
Life for fifteen-year-old Aaron, who picks through the garbage piles of Cairo, Egypt, looking for pieces of glass to resell, is hard enough--then he's disowned by his family for stealing. This story of abject third-world poverty is a grippingly realistic version of stories with a more speculative nature, namely Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi and Trash by Andy Mulligan.

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