Raphael, Gardo, and Rat are dumpsite boys. They live in the enormous dump in an unnamed South or Central American city. They survive by savaging through the garbage dumped each day by trucks from the city or by barges or train cars from other locations. Although none of them have parents, both Raphael and Gardo have relatives with whom they live. Poor Rat, whose real name is Jun-Jun, has no one and lives alone, except for the rats, in a pit that once housed equipment. They find paper, plastic, and metal, which they can sell. It is a meager existence, and they are often hungry. All of this changes when they find the little leather bag. Inside are a map and a key which will change everything.
The perilous adventure which ensues requires each boy to exercise his own skills and strengths to ensure the survival of the group. They must battle corrupt officials and police as well as other desperate, poor people. This suspenseful novel will keep the reader riveted until the last page.
There are some unpleasant scenes, including violence, that might be unsettling for younger readers. The narration shifts, sometimes mid-chapter, between the three main characters and some other minor characters. Although it is seamless, it could cause difficulty for some readers.
Overall, I would highly recommend this novel for middle school and high school students. It will appeal to both boys and girls. Mulligan manages to create characters whose honor and innate goodness rise about their horrific surroundings. These characters will stay with you a long time.