Hope for Garbage by Alex Tully is a story that moves quickly from a boy with a troubled past to a whirlwind of drama that had me rocking back and forth and muttering, "Oh ****, oh ****!" as I hit plot twists. Not a lot of novels affect in me such a visceral way, but Hope for Garbage did.
While Hope for Garbage covers some heavier issues like alcoholism and drug abuse (mostly with the adults), the overall feel of the novel is optimistic and bittersweet. This is a story about moving away from tragedy, dealing with guilt, and finding a new, redemptive purpose for things (and lives) that have been banged up and discarded.
I could give you my take on the setup of the story, but the blurb for Hope for Garbage does a great and descriptive job, so here it is:
"Welcome to the cruel world of Trevor McNulty. No matter how hard he tries, this seventeen year-old just can’t get a break. After enduring a tragic past, he finds himself living with his alcoholic uncle on the outskirts of Cleveland. His days are filled with garbage-picking and hanging out with his seventy year-old neighbor, who also happens to be his best friend. One early morning while scanning the streets in a posh suburb, he meets Bea, a rebellious rich girl with problems of her own. She’s smart, cute, and a glimmer of light in his dark world. But in the midst of their budding romance, Bea’s beautiful yet miserable mother enters the picture with an agenda of her own. Beginning with an innocent car ride, she sets off a chain of events so shocking and destructive, Trevor is pushed to the brink of despair. While he is desperate to save his relationship with Bea, he learns that nothing in his world can be saved unless he first saves himself. Hope for Garbage is a story about resilience—about overcoming adversity under the most extraordinary circumstances—about never, ever, giving up hope. Because sooner or later, everybody gets a break."
Alex Tully is a good storyteller. The book was fast-paced, and I ripped through it in no time, not only because it was quick, but also because I found it easy to identify with Trevor and his drive to excel and make a better life.
The story starts off hinting of a sweet, Romeo and Juliet sort of romance between Trevor and Bea, but a scene worthy of The Graduate (1967) quickly throws Trevor into the midst of a lot of drama. Things go down...they really do.
Alex Tully doesn't tell us everything about Trevor right off the bat. The author tends to hold off until a better time to reveal secrets about Trevor. We know he had a troubled past, but we don't know what happened until a later part of the novel. This kept me on my toes the whole way.
THOUGHTS ON SOME CHARACTERS (Some Spoilers)
Trevor McNulty is the sort of character that's easy to cheer for. He's smart, resourceful, and has had a lot of crummy things happen to him and his family that he couldn't control. Throughout the book, he grapples with painful childhood memories and guilt, which is woven seamlessly with the scenes between him and his therapist as well as the dramatic events that unfold later in the story.
Lorene is the housekeeper for Bea's family, and has served as more of motherly/best friend figure for Bea than Bea's biological mother. She lives a quiet, empty-nester life in a smaller house on the nicer side of town with her husband. Lorene notices people's surprised reactions to her as an African American woman on the wealthier side of town.
Mrs. Stewart, or "Evelyn"
If I could sum up Bea's mom in a phrase, it would be "Mrs. Robinson." Like Trevor, Bea's mom is unhappy with her station in life, but unlike him, she is trapped in an unhappy marriage with a toxic husband who turns her daughter against her. Her character had the most potential for complexity but it didn't play out that way. Her loneliness and insecurity lead her to "do" things a la Graduate (1967), but worse, because Trevor hasn't even graduated from high school. She's hard to like, and sadly, it stays that way for the whole novel. For her, things never get better.
Having grown up in a economically comfortable neighborhood, Bea is sheltered but not judgmental when it comes to lower-income communities. She resents her mother for being absent. Although Bea starts off as Trevor's love interest, she quickly becomes a minor character since she comes in and out of the novel through the eyes of Lorene.
THE ENDING... (Spoiler Hints)
What the heck happened in the last chapter?
While Tully's way of holding secrets until later tends to work well, the ending undoes everything that we've been lead to believe about Trevor. This is less of a twist and more of a non sequitur.
Most of the novel makes Trevor out to be a "diamond in the rough", a considerate kid from the ghetto who's going to break out of his run-down and unstable environment into a better life with more opportunities, but the last few lines were so out of character for him and Lorene that I'll just pretend they never happened. That never happened, okay?
My eyes were glued to the book until the end. Overall, this was a great read because the story moves fast, and there are lots of plot twists that keep me on my toes. Trevor is a character who I want to cheer for as he earns more opportunities for a better life. Some of the characters are a bit underdeveloped, such as Mrs. Stewart, who is villainized and dispensed with by the end of the novel.
(Hint: You can probably find the book for cheap on Amazon. As of today, it's $2.99 on Kindle.)
My rating: 4/5 stars