Ellen Hopkins, August 2009. Hopkins has done the impossible – she’s made me love a novel in verse. Generally I’m not into this trend; why not just write in prose? But I fell in love with these characters, and really the verse is pretty prosaic, except for the poems that start each chapter.
Tricks follows five smart, well-meaning teens who get bullied and sidetracked into lives so terrible that prostitution is the only way out. Eden is madly in love with her boyfriend, but her born-again parents won’t let her see him. They send her away to Tears of Zion, a rehabilitation camp, where her only chance of decent food, let alone escape, is sex with her guard. Seth is a small-town gay kid whose dad kicks him out for his sexuality, so he becomes a kept boy with a sugar daddy. Whitney’s is the most melodramatic story: she’s a middle-class girl who feels rejected by her boyfriend and family, which leads her to fall for the lies of an alleged model photographer who eventually hooks her on heroin and makes her have sex with his friends. Cody is the least likeable character, a teenage boy who becomes a gambling addict and steals his parents’ credit cards to pay off a mounting series of debts, turning to hooking when the money runs out. Ginger has been abused by her mother’s string of boyfriends but finds redemption in her love affair with a girl, Alex; the two run away to Vegas and strip to pay rent. Actually all the kids end up in Vegas, but only a couple of them meet up.
Each of these kids (except maybe Cody) has this intense vulnerability that makes you want to hug them and give them money and tell them to get off the streets; each of them would do it, you think, if only you could say the right words. Hopkins delivers a solid message without being trite or condescending. Highly, highly recommended for all public libraries and most high schools; there is graphic description of sexual acts both voluntary and coerced, as well as detailed descriptions of drug use. It’s necessary to drive the story, but conservative communities may not be ready.