Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: Trafficked by Kim Purcell

by Kim Purcell
Description from Oblong Books
A gripping thriller, ripped from the headlines! 
Hannah believes she's being brought from Moldova to Los Angeles to become a nanny for a Russian family. But her American dream quickly spirals into a nightmare. The Platonovs force Hannah to work sixteen-hour days, won't let her leave the house, and seem to have a lot of secrets - from Hannah and from each other. Stranded in a foreign land with false documents, no money, and nobody who can help her, Hannah must find a way to save herself from her new status as a modern-day slave or risk losing the one thing she has left: her life.
A few weeks ago, I saw a tweet from Jimmy Fallon (yes, that Jimmy Fallon) saying "New young adult novel Trafficked by Kim Purcell out today!! Congrats Kim!!"

Now, I'm a big fan of Jimmy Fallon. And, like most of you, I think his criticisms of string theory and its lack of background independence are spot on.

But did you know the guy is funny, too? True story.

So as I read the tweet, I said to myself, "If he's going out of his way to recommend a book, it's gotta be worth a look." Then, in a further aside, spoken loud enough to frighten the other shoppers in my check-out lane, I said, "It's probably HILARIOUS!" The lesson, of course, is to stay out of my bubble of space when I'm shopping at the Dollar Store.

Anyway, I grab the book and, sight unseen, start reading.

Yeah. Turns out Trafficked is not Contemporary YA Comedy.

But it is a very good and very serious look at the problem of human trafficking. And when the summary says it's "ripped from the headlines," that's not hyperbole. Part of the appeal of the book was that it reminded me of a couple of cases in the Los Angeles area where housekeepers were being kept as slaves. I was working in LA at the time and remember reading that one of the suspect families was a wealthy couple whose patriarch worked at a major movie studio.


Okay, so maybe I knew slightly more about the book and its subject matter than I implied above. Still, I want to make sure no one gets the mistaken impression that just because Jimmy Fallon recommends it, it must be funny. That's what Ice-Cube thought, and you can see his reaction when he figured things out.

Purcell's main character is Hanna, a 17 year old Moldovan who leaves friends and family behind to pursue her dreams in America. She hopes to learn English, make enough money to pay for her grandmother's cataract surgery and pick up some Levi's and maybe a handbag for her bff back home.

This is where you want to jump into the pages (or micro-capsule capacitive laminate if you swing that way) and stop her in her tracks, tell her to listen to her own misgivings and push her as far away as possible from the charming and wealthy recruiter who seems strangely fixated on her. Trafficked then enters the OFZ (the Oh FRAAAACK Zone). This is a realm a lot of good YA occupies where the reader is constantly on the edge of his or her seat, waiting for the inevitable Bad Thing(s) to happen. You can tell you've arrived in the OFZ by the sensation of bugs crawling under your skin or the way you itch the back of your neck if you have to stop reading (to go to work, say, or bathe). In the OFZ, your hands eternally clench and unclench with the uncontrollable desire to BEaT THE LiViNG HELL OUT OF THE BAD GUYS!!!

Unfortunately, despite your attempt to force the words on the page to take her someplace else, Hanna's gonna accept that job in LA and you're gonna have to work the heavy bag at the gym tonight, pretending it's filled with the heads of human traffickers and you're BEaTiNG THE LiViNG HELL OUT OF THE BAD GUYS!!! Yes, in hindsight, that anger management Groupon deal might have been a good buy for me.

From the moment she sets foot on American soil, Hanna begins cloaking herself in one lie after another.  There are practical lies, like pretending to be from Moscow and carrying a fake passport to enter the country, and there are malicious lies, like the ones doled out by the family she's living with. We'll pay you, Hanna. We'll give you time off, Hanna. We'll drive you to English lessons, Hanna.

We respect you, Hanna.

These are mostly external lies, the kind we're told or that we tell others because of some prearranged role we've agreed to play. The book's strength, however, comes from the internal lies Hanna tells herself, the ones that provide her captors with the emotional bars they use to construct her prison. I call these Frog Lies.

"He didn't just turn up the burner, did he? Oh, what am I saying, he wouldn't do that. I'm probably just having a hot flash. Boy, this water sure is peppery."
Hanna allows the hot water she's in to get hotter and hotter all the while telling herself that she's partly to blame, that she's responsible somehow, that the father is just trying to help or that the mother is vain but harmless. These lies, along with the fear of being deported (or worse, as the family repeatedly threatens), keep her from recognizing the increasing danger she's in.

A story like this could easily devolve into more salacious territory. But it's far more effective as a psychological thriller, with the potential for terrible things always in the background, like an intruder hiding in a darkened house. In this way, Trafficked feels like a horror movie.

Yes, this novel is about human trafficking and, as such, it's an "issue" book. But if you're typically turned off by those, you'll find the message here emerges organically from a well written and compelling story.

Trafficked is a well-paced and frightening read. If it's not on your TBR, I highly recommend you add it.

As for Jimmy Fallon's involvement, it turns out the author's husband works with Mr. Fallon on his late night show. While some might see this as evidence that publishing is full of who-you-know-itis, I think it's pretty cool he used his platform to tell people about a great book.

It's hella better than his last recommendation, the Cambridge Monographs on Mathematical Physics.

Ugh, get a hobby, Jimmy Fallon!


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