The Rent Collector Discussion Questions

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

'The Rent Collector' is a story that uses a novel setting to tell a familiar tale of hope in difficult times. After reading it with your students, use these questions to discuss the story, literary elements, and personal responses.

The Rent Collector

Living in the Stung Meanchey, the largest municipal waste dump in Cambodia, Sang Ly is in danger of harm from fire, disease, and gangs, but the most consistent threat is eviction by The Rent Collector, Sopeap. Sopeap expects payment on time and in full, whether or not Sang Ly and her husband Ki Lim have spent their last pennies on doctors for their son Nisay. Awakening from a dream where her grandfather promises her a lucky day, Sang Ly sees events that seem anything but lucky. But a chance find sets in motion a new relationship with Sopeap. Sopeap teaches Sang Ly to read, Sang Ly helps Sopeap find redemption from a deeply troubled past, and all of their immediate neighbors are lightly touched by an unlikely visitor - hope.

This novel is a lesson in hope, a story of redemption, and a love song to literature wrapped in the surprising setting of a Cambodian garbage dump. High school and college students will find much to discuss after reading The Rent Collector.

Questions About the Story

  • In her opening dream, Sang Ly's grandfather tells her she will find her purpose. What is her purpose, and how does she find it?
  • What are conditions like in the dump? What would be the challenges of living there? How do different characters in the novel deal with these challenges differently? How does the dump contrast with the provinces?
  • How does Ki Lim respond to the gang who robbed and injured him? What are the differing points of view on how to deal with the violence? How do the feelings of the neighbors change in the story?
  • How do the people on the bus respond to Sang Ly's reading? What does this suggest about their character and culture?
  • Why does Sopeap hide her illness? How does her encounter with Sang Ly and the book change the course of her illness?
  • What does Sang Ly's Auntie say about beauty and ugliness? How does Sang Ly respond to the advice? How does that advice apply to Sang Ly's situation? What other applications of this advice have you encountered in life or literature?

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