Title: Asphalt Angels
Author: Ineke Holtwijk
Audience: 18 years of age and up
This book follows the realistic portrayal of the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil through the eyes of a thirteen year old boy named Alex. The gang he runs with is a bunch of other poor kids who call themselves the “Asphalt Angels.” From drugs to prostitution, these all occur in the everyday life of Alex. They live in the most disgusting, depressing, desperate environment a child can live in. They experience more in their teens than many adults do in a lifetime. They live under constant threat of being mugged, murdered, or harassed.
However, Alex, though perilous odds, is able to slowly turn his life around. Alex begins to want something more out of life. He grows tired of living in such deplorable conditions and running with a gang that will eventually get him arrested or killed. Through unbreakable determination he makes a change. He begins to work hard and eventually lands a job in an office. Soon he is even taking night classes. In the end we this how he has turned and feel a sense of hope that others can rise from the nothing and become something.
Poverty is without a doubt a huge theme in this book. Upon reading this book I began looking up pictures of the slums and favela of Rio de Janeiro. The book’s description of these terrible conditions is very good, but even then it does not do it justice. These slums are like a giant landfill filled with sheet metal homes and bustling with people who are covered in all kinds of filth. Not only do they have that to worry about, but the area is filled with gangs and extremely dangerous individuals with hair trigger tempers. To raise a child in such conditions is beyond my comprehension.
Danger is another important theme. These children live under the threat of death or injury every single day. Whether it be malnutrition, violence, drugs, or any other danger that is apparent in the slums. At one point, Alex contemplates on committing suicide as he decided he has finally had enough of this world and just cannot take it anymore.
I know many people who have grown up in less than suitable conditions but they did not let it keep them down. This is exactly how Alex is. Stuck in a terrible place with no future, he still strides to become something more than what he is; a street urchin. He knows there is no future in it, no good one anyway, and he does something about it. This is something everybody can learn from.
This book was a very sad, and unfortunately, very accurate account of life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. I think everybody should read this book and see how bad things can really get. However, this book is not for the squeamish. It covers all of the terrible things that can and do happen in these slums. The experiences the children go through are unnerving to say the least. While it is not easy, this book needs to be read by many people. It deserves the attention.
A reviewer at powells.com had this to day about the book. “Based on the life of a real child living in Rio de Janeiro, this is a heart wrenching account of one of the most heinous situations ever to be exposed to the public.”
Publishers Weekly liked the book but recommended it for a more mature audience. “The drama of the last chapters brings the plot to a sobering conclusion, yet strikes a dimly hopeful chord. This novel is not for the faint of heart; it is best suited for mature readers. Ages 12-up.”