“Tricks” and “Traffick”–A Glimpse at the Works of Ellen Hopkins

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Rating: 5/5

The reason why this review does not have my general “Should You Read It?” tagline is because ALL of Ellen Hopkins’ books are worth reading, although some are much better than others. My personal favorite is Burned and Smoke, which go together. My second favorite is Identitcal because the twist in the book is literally jaw dropping. My least favorites are Crank, Glass, and Fallout, which have to do with drug addiction. Don’t get me wrong, they are amazing books and definitely worth the read, but drug stories are not my personal favorite.

So here I am to talk a bit about Tricks and Traffick. I am neglecting a review on my favorite Ellen Hopkins books (Burned and Smoke) in favor of these two out of all her books because Traffick is her newest novel. I actually had to reread Tricks to remember what happened and reinvest in the characters, and it was well worth the reread.

Tricks features five different high school students of various ages with five different lives leading into a similar, unfortunate outcome.

Eden has a wonderful life with a boy she loves dearly and who seems to love her just as much in return. But she is one of the young people who has been born into a family of strictly religious parents, the kind who think that having a boyfriend in high school goes against God, since she possibly can’t marry any of those guys. Getting caught by mom leads her to take Eden to the Tears of Zion institution to dispel demons. The children there are treated horribly, and the only way out of there is to manipulate freedom with her body.

Seth is gay and finds his perfect match online. When his lover, Loren, goes to New York without him, Seth is left to deal with the loss of being dumped from afar. This leads him to come out to his father, who disowns him and sends him packing just before he is meant to graduate high school. Seth confides in Carl, an older man who keeps the company of younger men, a sponsor. With this role, Seth is forced to give in to the needs of Carl and his “friends” in order to keep a roof over his head and survive.

Whitney is the kind of girl who is saving her virginity for Mr. Right, the kind of girl who has a sister that surpasses her in everything, the kind of girl who is neglected by her parents. When she does give her virginity away, the man she loved turns out to be a total player. Confiding in a mysterious handsome stranger she meets at he mall, she finds a newfound love and goes to Vegas with Bryn, leaving behind her whole life in Santa Cruz. It is after he gets her hooked on heroine that she finds out he is nothing but a pimp, recruiting other girls in the same fashion.

Ginger has way too many siblings from different fathers and has to play mother because their own mother is a whore. With help from her grandmother, Ginger takes care of the entire family. She has little time for friends, but when she meets Alex, things change, and not just in the “Oh, I didn’t know I liked girls” kind of way. After a tragic accident in the family and having enough of a neglectful mother who encourages her “customers” to have their way with her own daughter, Ginger and Alex skip town to Vegas, where they become strippers.

Cody is a regular guy who works at GameStop and has a wonderful girlfriend, until he gets into gambling. With a brother always getting into trouble and stealing, stress is high on his mother. When his stepfather dies, their family has little to no income and Cody finds that gambling is the best way to get money, at least when Lady Luck is on his side. Eventually, their situation and debt is so dire that Cody sells himself to get the kind of money his family needs.

So all five of these kids have okay lives, just getting by, until this or that happens. This is a book about how people have to sell themselves just to survive, and what kinds of events lead to this outcome in the first place. Like all her other books, Hopkins has written Tricks in a poetry stanza format. At the beginning of each different character point of view is a poem by the character, overlaying their current feeling on their current situation and outlining a hidden message (the kind of poetry Crank is known for). It is a shame Hopkins does this only at the intro to each character section, instead  of using that format throughout like she does in some of her other novels. This is a wonderful book for teens, boy or girl, gay or straight, rich or poor. The relation to real life problems in her novels never ceases to amaze me, and the language is rich and eloquent for the mind of the young reader.

 

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Rating: 5/5

So now that I have reread and reviewed Tricks, I can go more in-depth with Traffick. This is the long-awaited sequel to Tricks, in which we see the in-depth struggle of Eden, Seth, Whitney, Ginger, and Cody, and how they may or may not manage to get out of the human trafficking strut they are in. While the previous novel had very little of the characters lives intertwining–although there was a bit of it near the end–this novel is even less touched on the character interlacing technique, which is unfortunately not what my expectations were.

Each character is struggling through their healing, and some characters struggle a bit more than others in their flight to freedom from drugs and trafficking. Whitney, for example, is still addicted to heroin and returns to Bryn, but in the end she acknowledges that addiction and seeks help. Seth struggles with his relationship with his father, still seeking acceptance while trying to find a way to make it in Vegas while he can. Eden makes her way out of the safe home she was in and finds her way back to Andrew, having to confront her parents about the way they have treated both her and her sister. Ginger misses Alex and must find a way to forgive her mother for what she had done to send her out in the first place, becoming reunited with the rest of her family and having to cope with that as well. And then there’s Cody; at the end of the previous novel, Cody’s fate was very open-ended. Now we see him moving forward through therapy after a paralyzing spinal chord injury, with his girlfriend loyally by his side.

Another interesting thing about this book is that many of the opening poems for each character point of view are told by side characters, the siblings, parents, and friends of the main characters, giving us a small glimpse of what is going on in their lives as well. We get a small smidgen of Eden and how she was sent to Tears of Zion just like her sister, how Vince is apologetic to Cody’s situation, how Ginger’s mom and Seth’s dad feel about what they have done in terms of neglect to their children, and how Whitney’s family may be distant, but they care.

This is a novel about finding one’s way through a desperate situation  while maintaining family values and what it means to find oneself. It is a novel that shows struggles that relate to real-life scenarios. In the back of her books, Ellen Hopkins always has some kind of statistic or hotline relating to the context of the novel, and this novel has a wonderful list.

“More than 70 percent of homeless youth living on the streets turn tricks to survive.”

On that note, I highly encourage not only reading these two novels, but ALL of her other books as well.

 

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