Librarian Josh Westbrook once said, “Kids are living stories every day that we wouldn’t let them read.” As sad as it is to have to admit this to ourselves, there are teens out there who have truly horrible lives. And whether it is these teens who need to read that they are not alone or other teens who need to see that they don’t have it so bad, many teens flock to the books about really tough topics. Ellen Hopkins is one author, in particular, who does an amazing job of writing stories about all sorts of tough topics without glossing over the details that would make it “too real” for some people. If it’s too shocking, it’s just too bad — because this is reality for far too many teens.
Ellen Hopkins was inspired to write Tricks when she read a statistic stating that the average age of a prostitute in the USA is only TWELVE YEARS OLD. Through research, including interviews with teen prostitutes, she developed five fictional characters whose varied backgrounds and life choices all led them down the path to becoming prostitutes.
When Hopkins was interviewed by Laura Watkinson [for SCBWI Bologna], she was asked if she would like to react to a reviewer on Amazon.com who wrote “THIS IS NOT A BOOK FOR TEENS! This book should only be read if you are 18.” Hopkins replied:
Tricks isn’t for every teen. But it is an important book for many… I hear from hundreds of readers daily. Many share their stories. I have heard from young women who were raped in preadolescence. I have heard from young men who were forced to prostitute themselves while still teens. In researching the book, I talked to young prostitutes who were coerced by pimps, or who came to sell their bodies to afford drugs, or maybe a pair of designer jeans. These young people can certainly handle reading Tricks. Others should read the book, if only to understand the repercussions of making this very bad choice.
Once again, the novel in verse format makes it much easier to get through the book than if you had to read it in prose. There is just something about this format that allows for a little more detachment on the reader’s part. If something gets too tough to read, you can get through that poem quickly. Or, if you are far too bothered, you can skip a poem. If even ONE teen is saved from a poor choice that could have led them into a life of prostitution, though, this book will have served its purpose — and I would be willing to bet that this story has touched many young lives already.