The Glass Collector
Albert Whitman and Co.
This book had some serious potential that it didn’t quite live up to. I read it via an ARC from netgalley, so perhaps there will have been a touch more editing before the book is published? (ranging from simple fixes in typos–“mommies” instead of “mummies” to the more difficult job of both shortening/tightening the plot and helping the ending out some).
In short, the book centers around a teenager named Aaron who is part of the Zabbaleen people (who are Coptic Christians) outside the city of Cairo. Their job is to collect a large part of the city’s trash, and they recycle about 80% of what they collect. Only they aren’t like our Western garbage men. They pick the trash up with their bare hands, cart it back home, sort it into various piles, live with it in their homes for up to two weeks, and finally sell it a merchant on his biweekly trek to their area. The descriptions of the filth in their lives, of the hardships present all around them, and of their poverty are heart-breaking.
Aaron is a beauty-loving expert at collecting bits of sparkling, colorful glass without hurting himself, but gives into temptation and steals some. That is a serious offense in his community, and he is ousted from his stepfamily. Through the rest of the book, he manages to survive–even collecting medical waste at one point–until, suddenly, things resolve at the end of the book… rather too neatly, in my opinion.
Strong social consciousness elements, strong environmental issues, pointed remarks about the wastefulness of the wealthy, and Aaron’s interesting realization that even he–a poor Zabbaleen–has an important role to play in society make this a book for discussion. But the point of view wavered, the ending was too neat, and the plot rambled a bit–making this a book most kids won’t suffer through voluntarily unless they’re interested in the concepts presented.
The Glass Collector will be on shelves March 1; it will be an interesting addition to groups that are looking to discuss books with elements like those mentioned.
Cover image from Albert Whitman.