In “Avenue of Mysteries,” novelist John Irving tells the stories of two “dump kids,” siblings who grew up scavenging glass and metal amid the trash in Oaxaca — one who can read minds and one who retrieves books from the rubbish.

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“Avenue of Mysteries”

by John Irving

Simon & Schuster, 448 pp., $28

Hold on to your hats: John Irving’s new novel is a wild and rollicking ride. In “Avenue of Mysteries,” the master storyteller and author of 13 previous novels takes us on a journey from Mexico, via Iowa City, to the Philippine Islands.

Juan Diego Guerrero has been away from his native country for 40 years, living and working as professor and novelist in Iowa, but the past, especially his early teen years, is ever present.

Juan Diego flits in and out of dream states, recalling his childhood in Oaxaca, Mexico, where he and his younger sister, Lupe, lived in the town dump, scavenging for glass and metals. Their mother is a prostitute and a cleaning lady; they are unsure who their father is.

Known as ninõs de la basura (dump kids), they stand out because of the boy’s remarkable self-taught ability to read and the girl’s clairvoyance — she can read minds and sometimes see the future.

Lupe’s speech is unintelligible babbling to anyone but her brother, who serves as her interpreter. Juan Diego retrieves discarded books and becomes a voracious reader of an eclectic mix of Russian novels, literary criticism and obscure Catholic texts.

The unusual siblings attract the attention of local Jesuit leaders who seek to further their education and bring them to live in their orphanage. In an odd twist, because of her telepathic skills, Lupe and Juan Diego briefly join a local circus, where her job is to read the minds of the lions.

Though he walks with a limp because of a terrible accident — a truck ran over his foot — Juan Diego aspires to be a “skywalker,” traversing the big tent, 80 feet in the air without a net.

In the novel’s modern story, set in 2011, Juan Diego, now in his 50s, travels to the Philippines to fulfill a promise he made to an American draft dodger he met in Oaxaca as a boy.

Before the “good gringo” died he asks Juan Diego to pay respects to the grave of his father, who died in the Philippines during World War II. En route to Asia, Juan Diego meets a mysterious mother and daughter duo who befriend him and much more

Whether it’s the medications he is taking or a persistent dream state, Juan Diego never seems to be quite in the present. “Why was he so easily (and repeatedly) carried back to the past? Juan Diego wondered.” The dump, for all of its stench and impoverishment, is rich with memories and experiences that pale in comparison with the writer’s adulthood and fill him with longing.

Irving revisits themes he has previously explored, particularly the varied sexual orientations of his characters, the subject of his last novel, “In One Person.” As a teen, Juan Diego gets to know an American priest in training who falls in love with Flor, a transvestite prostitute from the streets of Oaxaca. The couple eventually adopts the boy and moves him to the United States.

At times, during Juan Diego’s journey to the Philippines and his childhood flashbacks, the energy is manic and the characters and their stories picaresque.

Much of the zany energy is generated by Lupe. Clever, excitable and passionate, Lupe is a like a Shakespearean fool, a tiny sprite who spouts wisdom and profane insults in almost equal measure. She is an unconventional moral compass for the narrative because, as a mind reader, she knows people’s true thoughts and intentions.

Although Juan Diego has experienced tremendous loss, “Avenue of Mysteries” is not a story that pulls on heartstrings; instead, Irving plays delightful havoc with this colorful collection of humanity, beguiling us from start to finish.