Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tricks not treats.

Tricks by Ellen Hopkins is a book of poetry written from the viewpoint of 5 teens who end up in various ways selling their bodies. Eden is sent away to a reform camp by her religious parents for a forbidden relationship and escapes by offering sexual favors. Seth is thrown out by his father for being gay and end ups the boy toy of a powerful man named Carl. Whitney turns to a guy she met at the mall one day when her first love dumps her for not being a good lay and ends up being pimped out until she overdoses on heroin and black tar. Ginger runs away from home with her girlfriend, Alex, after being sold by her mother for sex. Alex and Ginger then make a living stripping, but drift apart as Alex gets into more dangerous tricks. And Cody turns to prostitution when his attempts at gambling (fueled by alcohol and some minor and major drug use) don't pull his family out of crushing debt, but it nearly costs him his life.

(Image from Amazon)

Hopkins writes these types of books--the poetry, the drug and sexual violence story lines. And she's gotten some pretty good reviews for it. A previous novel, Crank, was inspired by her own daughter's story of drug use. And these are certainly important stories that need to be told. But I don't think I need to be the one reading them. There are several things that bothered me about the story.

On one hand the poetry angle is kind of cool. Each time she changes voice, there's a poem written by the character which reveals an overall theme statement of the character at that time. But the rest of the poetry just seems like a way to provide a lot of white space (good for reluctant readers) and cover up some blah prose. I'm not a free verse person in general, but it was weird.

The story lines in general are a little too predictable. They felt like the PSAs you'd see in health or driver's ed classes. Of course, Seth's history of coming out would have a catholic priest. Of course, Eden's dogmatic preacher father would go all law on her and send her off to reform camp (which would just be worse for her). It felt like there was a list of over-used sexual violence plot devices and Hopkins used them all. It kept me from being really truly moved by their stories to just be revolted. It makes me feel callous, and I know that's not what Hopkins was going for.

So ultimately, while I respect what Hopkins is trying to do, I don't like this book. There might be situations where I could recommend it, but I'd always be a little skeptical. ("I didn't really care for it, but you might like it. It will only take four hours of your life.")

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