Published by Harper Collins on March 10th 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Law & Crime, Social Themes, Dating & Relationships, Girls & Women, Social Issues, Dating & Sex
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What do you do when you’re in trouble?
A deeply affecting story about a fourteen-year-old girl who gets ensnared in a sex trafficking ring. The characters never became ‘real’ to me and I was always aware that I was in the middle of a book, but it brings important awareness of a difficult subject to the young adult audience. It is not an easy subject, but I’m glad I listened to it.
“Ain’t you even going to ask where I’m going?”
“Can’t nothing be worse than here.”
When fourteen-year-old Michelle’s drug-addicted mother kicks her out of their house in Philadelphia, she boards a train to New York City to find a school friend that moved there. She is lost and overwhelmed in the large city, but she runs into a kind stranger named Devon offers to help. He promises her comfort and safety for a few nights. She enjoys the feeling of safety and belonging at Devon’s apartment, but that doesn’t last for long. Devon invites some friends over and she is drugged and raped. She only has vague memories of that night, but the next morning they repeatedly tell her how much she enjoyed it and they use the situation as a way to initiate her into their business.
The story is short and powerful; the audiobook is four hours and the book is 208 pages. I listened to it in one sitting, which I think is the best way to experience the story. The audiobook narrator has a youthful voice which emphasizes Michelle’s innocence. The story begins with Michelle hospitalized with severe injuries. We then go back in time as Michelle tells us her story, before circling back to the hospital in the end. Michelle begins her story in childhood. Her life in her loving grandfather’s care is a sharp and heartbreaking contrast to her life after his death. The things that happen to Michelle are hard to stomach. Peggy Kern does not shy away from what prostitution entails, but it never feels voyeuristic.
“Michelle, is your mother dead?”
I want to say yes. I want it to be true. I want to say she’s the one who died on the couch last year. Got wheeled out on a stretcher and never came back. I want it to be her. But the wrong people die. the dead people are the good ones, the bad ones get to walk around like nothing. Like they got a right to keep breathing while the ones you need just leave their skin, waste away until there ain’t nothing left but a stupid dirty t-shirt and what you can barely remember.
Michelle’s story demonstrates how easy it is for someone to get trapped in this seedy underworld. Michelle is naive and trusting. She was deliberately targeted and lured into Devon’s business. Devon makes quite the sales pitch to Michelle. I even started to doubt myself and I knew what was the story was about! Even with the sense of dread building in the back of my mind, I thought, “Hmm, well maybe the bad guy comes later.” He showers her with empty promises of a better life, while never revealing what will be required of her. Michelle quickly becomes dependent on her captor. She didn’t see it as captivity, because it wasn’t a kidnapping in the traditional sense. Devon gives her the illusion of freedom and choice.
There are two other girls in the apartment, Kat and Baby. Despite the situation, there a sweetness to the relationship between the girls. Kat knows what needs to be done to survive and is a mentor to Michelle. Baby is only twelve and her youthfulness is emphasized for clients. Michelle becomes extremely protective of Baby. The women are kept isolated from outside contact. Drug use is rampant in the business and many of the women take drugs to endure their work. Michelle dreads evenings, but the business provides the family, stability and protection that she longed for since her grandfather’s death.
When Michelle expresses doubts, Devon repeatedly reminds her that her that there is no life for her outside of his world. The only other choice is a group home, facilities that have a reputation for being rife with abuse. The situation with Devon is abusive, but Michelle is unable to see that and the euphemisms cloud her vision even more (medicine=drugs, daddy=pimp). The illusion is eventually broken, but by then she is already in deep and it is not as easy as getting up and walking away. Not only is she under constant supervision and completely dependent on Devon, but there are repercussions for leaving the “family.”
“You only missing if somebody looking for you.”
The economical writing style and perspective choice did make it difficult for me to fully connect with the characters. First person present tense is so tricky for me; sometimes it doesn’t bother me, but other times it is all I notice. It feels more immersive to many, but I find it distancing. It feels so restrictive, like I can’t get a complete picture. When the author uses literary devices (repetition in this case), it jolts me out of the book’s world even more. Even so, the fictional story told in this book is a grim reality for many young women. Since listening to this book, I’ve read numerous articles of women whose stories are so similar to Michelle’s. Her story ends up on a hopeful note, but so many women are manipulated into returning to the business.
One reason for the proliferation of sex trafficking is because in many parts of the world there is little to no perceived stigma to purchasing sexual favors for money, and prostitution is viewed as a victimless crime. Because women are culturally and socially devalued in so many societies, there is little conflict with the purchasing of women and girls for sexual services. Further, few realize the explicit connection between the commercial sex trade, and the trafficking of women and girls and the illegal slave trade. In western society in particular, there is a commonly held perception that women choose to enter into the commercial sex trade. However, for the majority of women in the sex trade, and specifically in the case of trafficked women and girls who are coerced or forced into servitude, this is simply not the case. Source: soroptimist.org (the bolding is my own)
This book gave me a new perspective on an issue that is difficult to think about. Little Peach demonstrates how easy it can be for young women to be lured into the sex trafficking industry and how difficult it can be for them to escape. The sex traffickers deliberately pick young women who don’t have strong family ties and will be most susceptible to their manipulations. Some of the most affecting scenes were the ones where we are reminded how few authentic bonds these women had in the outside world: the missing poster for the blonde girl and View Spoiler » when Michelle is rebuffed after working up the courage to call an old family friend for help. « Hide Spoiler When the men are done using them, the women, many of whom are by then struggling with drug addiction and mental illness, are tossed back on the street with no support. This book is by no means an easy read, but I am glad I listened to it.
Unlike a bag of heroin, a girl can be sold again and again.
*Little Peach is currently available on Hoopla, which is great service! If your library subscribes to it, it is a great way to check out audiobooks without the wait list.)