Tricks

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Before I get into the synopsis or review, I want to say that I have found myself in a quandary while reading this book. Tricks by Ellen Hopkins is a young adult book, as are her other books that are all written in the same verse style. I know that young adult books are classified as such because they feature "young adults" dealing with situations that they tend to at that age. And I am well aware that "nowadays" teens and young adults are having to deal with much more serious and dangerous situations than were common in the past. That being said, I think this book is highly inappropriate for those that are not of a certain maturity level and, in that sense, I don't know that the young adult classification is appropriate. I would go so far as to give this book an 'R' rating. My initial plan had been to do a giveaway with this book. However, I decided not to... I know there are many readers of this blog who are teenagers, and while those who do read this blog are probably mature enough to handle this material, I am not comfortable with the possibility of sending this book to someone under 18 whose parents may not be aware or approve. (I truly mean NO OFFENSE to any young followers of my blog!!) I just do not want to be responsible for this book ending up in anyone else's hands, lol! I could probably just leave you at that, but I'll go ahead and briefly describe the plot and my feelings on the actual story itself.

Tricks tells the stories of 5 teens who find themselves, due to various situations, leading dangerous lives in prostitution and "turning tricks". Eden is from an ultra-conservative and religious family who disapprove of her dating; Seth works with his father on a farm in a rural area and struggles with his homosexuality; Whitney can't seem to live up to her sister or earn her mother's love; Ginger's own mother is addicted to drugs and engages in prostituting herself; and Cody finds himself in financial straits after becoming addicted to gambling. The book describes how their situations lead them to prostitution and then further illustrates typical scenarios they deal with.

I realize Ellen Hopkins takes on issues that many people shy away from or are scared to confront. Teenage prostitution is definitely one of them. However, I felt that this book did almost nothing but describe sex scene after lewd sex scene. I couldn't help but feel "dirty" after I read this, and I don't consider myself a prude. I mean, at my job I interview children about sexual abuse on a daily basis and the descriptions in this book still bothered me. I felt the book was overly focused on the sexual scenes and less on the actual stories.

One thing that may have made this book more enjoyable/tolerable was to tell each character's story straight through, making the book almost like a collection of "short stories" of teens who have been in this situation. It would have been just over 100 pages per character which isn't bad when written in free verse. Instead, the book focuses on one character and then abruptly stops and changes to the next character all throughout the book. It was advertised that the stories would interweave to tell one powerful story, but that HARDLY happened. The characters mentioned one or two of the other almost in passing. The stories really had nothing to do with each other except that they were each about teen prostitution. The start and stop of each character's story made it more difficult to get to know each character and it made their individual stories too choppy.

So would I still recommend Ellen Hopkins's books to readers? Absolutely. She grapples very difficult topics that need to be brought to life and her verse writing is so alluring. However, I would NOT recommend this as one of the first books to read by her. I do feel that this book could have been done much better and would have had a much better impact, at least for me.

12 comments:

Tina said...

Great great review!! I read tons of YA and I love so many of them but I agree some cross the line! After I read Holly Blacks Modern Faerie Tale I was like Whoa..this is for 13 year olds!!

Sarbear said...

Jenny, I think that was a good idea to hold off on the giveaway since this book might offend some people's parents. It's a good review. I liked how you said what you think would have made it better.

Jenny said...

Tina -- Thanks! I haven't heard of the one you're talking about, but yeah, some of these books are definitely too much and they're marketed towards that age group!

Sara -- Thanks! Yeah, I definitely don't want to be responsible for that!! =)

passionatebooklover said...

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Jennifer said...

Great review, Jenny! I am definitely looking forward to reading it!

Ellen Hopkins said...

Let me show you why I write realistically about issues like this. You say you know kids go thru bad things, but do you really understand what many of their lives are like? I get messages every day that make me think maybe you're choosing to view their world through frosty lenses. This message from a 15-yr-old reader:

i'm messaging you to thank you for tricks. you see, i was raped six months ago. i have been trying to deal with it, and i thought i was okay, until i read tricks. the scene before ginger leaves home was very...scary for me. not sure if that's the word i'm looking for, but i suppose it works. i ended up closing the book to come back to it after that scene, but then i stayed up all night finishing it.

ginger showed me that even though this happened to me, i don't have to let it control me. she became the strong character, really. helping alex and whitney the way she did...i just wanted to say you helped me get my life back, something no one else has been able to do.

for that, thank you. thank you for writing books that make me think, and now writing a book that empowered me to gain control of my life.

Linda said...

Very good review. I think your career allows you to see things quite clearly.

Jason Gignac said...

It's a difficult question, and teen covers a lot of ground (I mean, how similar is a 13 y/o to an 18 y/o?), but when a really raw topic like this is written well, it can be an excellent book, for teens or grownups. I reviewed Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, recently, which has a debate around it now, for it's content, where I talked about this very issue. When I was a teenage, I wish I'd HAD something to read that accepted that I had grownup feelings, that I needed to deal with grownup situations. Once you're a teenage, your parents can't really guard you from the world (for all they might try), so why should a book guard you from the world?

At the same time, and this criticism isn't limited to YA fiction (if anything it's worse in adult), there is a fine line between grappling with an issue and voyeurism. I haven't read Tricks, so this is not necesarily a criticism of this book, but in general, lots of books that deal with tough issues will sort of go to the other extreme, and try so hard to jab at the readers emotions that they become equivalent to pornography (the now famous terms 'war-porn' and 'torture porn' are both good examples). Your comment about talking to kids who actually have sexual abuse, and how this doesn't jive with your experience is particularly striking to me, because I've long grappled with the idea that we're sort of glamourising the extremes of experience in our culture, so the more normal sort of sorrows and miseries people have seem less important. Even when they're truly horrific, like sexual abuse.

justicejenniferreads said...

Great review. This book sounds intersting. I like books that take an edgy approach to some raelly deep issues. However, I also expect said books to do so in a tasteful way. Not sure if I'll be picking this one up - thanks for the warning.

okbolover said...

this does seem like a controversial book for teens. I thought it was a great review though and good job on holding off on the giveaway. If you don't feel comfortable doing it then don't. I thought that was a good call on your part. I might pick this book up, I've heard of this author and doesn't she write about rather sensitive issues involving teens? anyhow I'll probably read this after reading other ones just to get the feel for her writing. Thanks for the info.

Andrea said...

I haven't read anything by Ellen Hopkins. I've heard good things about her, but she writes such tough topics that I can't commit to that yet.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

Great review Jenny! I will probably read this one at some point, but I've got so many other Hopkins books to catch up on that this one won't be at the top of my list.

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