Trash takes place in an unnamed third-world country in South America. (The main characters want to go to Sao Paulo, Brazil, so they must be somewhere close enough to have heard of the city.) Raphael, Gardo, and Rat—three “dumpsite” boys—keep off starvation by digging through trash, recycling items and hoping to find money or items of value. Since there is no sanitation in the poorer districts of the city, what they often find is human excrement. It’s hard to imagine a more miserable life than theirs, surrounded by filth, hunger and disease.
One day the impossible happens. Raphael finds a leather bag with several items including a map, a wallet with some money, a driver’s license, some pictures, and a key. Since he always works with Gardo, he splits the money with him. But when the police come looking for the leather bag, Raphael senses it is very important and doesn’t reveal his secret. He gets Rat, the most destitute of all the children, to hide it.
Rat is able to identify the type of key Raphael has found; it belongs to a locker in the train station where Rat used to beg. Once the boys find and open the locker, they know they are in serious trouble. They’re onto a scandal, and the corruption goes way past the local police, all the way to figures in the national government. People are dying in this cover-up, and the boys need to decide whether to collect a reward or seek justice for the poor.
This is a good mystery for everyone. Most of the story is told, in alternating chapters, by the three boys, although adults, such as the priest who runs the local school for the dumpsite children, give the reader some important background information. Join them on their adventure in fighting governmental corruption in a country where political dishonesty is the norm.