It somehow seems fitting that I read the new Ellen Hopkins' book today. As rain poured outside, I curled up with a book that is disturbing and important and certain to create some controversy among adults. Teens, however, will treat it as they have every other book by Hopkins: as a book that pulls no punches, that tells the awful truth about what happens to some teens, teens who are cast off for whatever reason by the adults that should be caring for them.
Five teens take turns telling the story of how they became prostitutes, turning tricks for money. Sometimes the money goes for drugs, sometimes to pay off gambling debts. The teens come from different situations. There is the daughter of the strictly religious (and secretly abusive) parents who forbid her relationship with a young man. Another young man is thrown out of his house when he finally comes out to his father. One young woman is prey to her trick-turning mother who elects to sell her own daughter's body for money. They weave back and forth from teen to teen giving the narrative a rather jittery effect. That works well given the lives these teens lead: jumping from one situation to another, generally worse, one. All is told in a variety of verse forms and styles with language achingly beautiful as it relates the grim details of rape, prostitution, drugs use, and so much more.
As we prepare for Banned Books Week, as I urged at the YALSA blog earlier today, this is a good time to take up the gauntlet. Read books with content that could be challenged. Be aware of why teens need books like TRICKS (and SPEAK and TWISTED which are also being challenged). Make your voice heard as one person who will ensure that life-saving books get into teens' hands. Rather than see them fall victim to prostitution and drugs and abuse, let them test themselves and their beliefs in the safety of a book. JUST. LIKE. THIS. ONE.