Rent Collector
by Wright, Camron

Sang Ly struggles to survive by picking through garbage in Cambodia's largest municipal dump. Under threat of eviction by an embittered old drunk who is charged with collecting rents from the poor of Stung Meanchey, Sang Ly embarks on a desperate journeyto save her ailing son from a life of ignorance and poverty.

Working as "pickers," Sang Ly and her husband, Ki Lim, earn their living by sifting through the trash at Stung Meanchey, Cambodia's large city dump. Desperately poor, they live with their sickly baby boy in a one-room hut on a small piece of land that they rent from the cantankerous Rent Collector. Everything changes when one day Sang Ly discovers the Rent Collector's secret: she can read. Determined to give her son a better life, Sang Ly convinces the Rent Collector to teach her how to read. An unlikely friendship blossoms between the two women, and Sang Ly learns that the Rent Collector's gruff exterior hides unspeakable personal tragedies and a life shattered by the Khmer Rouge. Undergirding Sang Ly's literary journey is the support and care of the Stung Meanchey community, illustrating how beauty can be found in even the ugliest of places. Drawn from the real lives of the residents of Stung Meanchey, this is a beautifully told story about the perseverance of the human spirit and the importance of standing up for what is right. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Sang Ly lives on the edge of the biggest garbage dump in Cambodia. To earn a living, she and her husband pick through the garbage to find items that can be sold for recycling. In the grand scheme of her daily woes, the filth and stench are secondary to her baby's failing health, the sharp-tongued rent collector's regular visits, and dangerous gangs roaming the area. Into this horrific reality comes an unsuspected source of relief: literature. Sang Ly's relationship with the rent collector, Sopeap, takes a turn for the better when she finds a book and Sopeap teaches her to read it. This book is an adaptation for children and, though fictional, is based on the lives of real people. Readers will cheer for Sang Ly and her hopes for a better life for her baby. Moments of tenderness between Sang Ly and her husband, glimpses of an incipient friendship with Sopeap, and some very improbable twists and turns keep the narrative compelling as it rumbles towards a hopeful conclusion. Grades 6-8. Copyright 2022 Booklist Reviews.

Inspired by a true story, this young readers' edition of a 2012 title for adults focuses on a family living in a large garbage dump on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Sang Ly, the woman at the heart of the story, says, "The clock is broken, so its time never changes." This is a metaphor for her life in Stung Meanchey, where she sorts through the trash for recyclables and endures daily struggles. Sang Ly's life turns a corner when she offers Sopeap Sin, "a bitter, angry woman" who collects rent from the dump's residents for local landlords, a discarded children's book in lieu of payment. This marks the beginning of a genuine relationship between the two, a journey through language and literature. As Sang Ly haltingly learns to read from Sopeap, she becomes determined to give her ailing son an education and starts to interpret the world through the written word. In this way, she begins to take control; for his part, her husband, Ki Lim, carries a knife to defend their family from gangs. Most powerful here is the matryoshka-doll-like format of stories within stories that highlight the power of literacy. Unfortunately, in explaining the book's context, the author's note prefacing the story asks readers, "What if you lived in a garbage dump?" and "Worse, what if you couldn't read?" which has the effect of othering the protagonists. A story of survival that is most effective when it comes to showing the power of reading. (Fiction. 9-14) Copyright Kirkus 2022 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

The steady rumble of uninvited trucks tries to pry into the safety of my dream, a dream in which I am still a child prancing along the trail toward the rice fields where my family works in the Prey Veng province of Cambodia’s countryside. It is a cheerful morning as I pull at my grandfather’s bony fingers, tugging him along while he struggles to keep up. . . .

He bends close, squints his eyes at mine, and peeks into my thoughts as though he were the village fortune-teller. I find it unnerving and so I glance down at my bare and dirty toes. He won’t allow it. With a touch from his calloused finger to my chin he raises my gaze. He speaks assuredly, but still with enough grandfatherly giggle trailing in his voice to make certain my little-girl ears pay attention to every smiling syllable.

“Life will not always be so hard or cruel. Our difficulties are but a moment.”

I stare back, trying to make sense of his words, for my life is neither hard nor cruel. I am still too young to recognize that we are poor—that in spite of the grandeur of the province and the hours my family toils each day, we don’t own the land on which we work. I haven’t yet grasped that earning enough money to buy food on the very day we eat it isn’t an adventure embraced by the world.

The rumble grows louder, and Grandfather rocks forward on his toes.

“Remember, Sang Ly. When you find your purpose—and you will find your purpose—never let go. Peace is a product of both patience and persistence.”

How can a child pretend to make sense of such a puzzling phrase?

“Sang Ly,” he repeats, as if he finds eminent joy in the sound of my name, “it starts today. Today is going to be a very lucky day.”

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