A 15-year-old Coptic Christian struggles to survive on the outskirts of modern-day Cairo.
As one of the Zabbaleen people who collect, sort and recycle the vast amounts of garbage generated in the capital, Aaron is at the bottom of Egyptian society. Yet, regardless of how the rest of the country may view them, the Zabbaleen live by a basic moral code: “Strive to do your best even in the worst conditions. Don’t steal. Don’t harm. Don’t lie.” Since his mother’s death, Aaron is finding it more difficult to follow this code. He lives at the mercy of his negligent stepfather, Hosi. Dreaming of a more beautiful world, Aaron spends his days collecting glass from the alleys in the city and avoiding the blows and taunts of his stepbrother, Lijah. He navigates the narrow confines of his life, spending his little free time with his friends and trying to stay out of trouble. The wondrous bottles and aromas at Omar’s Perfume Emporium beckon to him, and he finds himself stealing bottles and hiding them in the village. Perera takes teen readers into a new world in this often-eloquent novel, if they have the patience to savor the rich descriptions and wait for the plot to pick up speed.
A novel of hope and redemption in the most unlikely of settings. (author’s note) (Fiction. 13 & up)