Guest Review: Tricks by Ellen Hopkins (Allie of In Bed with Books)
Full confession: before Tricks, I had never read an Ellen Hopkins' novel. Novels in verse are right up my alley, but I just couldn't get over my perception of Hopkins as the drug writer.
Reading about people getting hooked on drugs and terrible things happening seemed about as interesting as listening to a friend tell you about that totally awesome trip they had once. But I saw her speak at the Montgomery County Book Festival, and she spoke very passionately and personally about the books she writes. I chose to read her 2009 release, Tricks, because the sequel, Traffick, is coming out this November.
Tricks alternates between five teens. Eden Streit is a preacher's daughter and knows that she has to keep her atheist boyfriend a secret. Seth Parnell is stifled on his dad's Indiana farm, and seeks escape with an older boyfriend in the (bigger) city. Whitney Lang just wants someone to notice her instead of her perfect older sister. Ginger Cordell is crushing on her classmate Alexis and crushed by her irresponsible mother, who is a hooker. Cody Bennett is losing his beloved stepfather to cancer and thinks that his family will be okay if he can just win the next bet. They're located throughout the US, from differing economic situations, and differing home stability.
Hopkins takes her time setting up each teenager's story. This is not 600 pages of endless degradation. That doesn't mean the subject matter isn't brutal. Seth and Ginger are both abused sexually as children. Several of the narrators end up hooked on drugs. And, of course, all of their lives end up touching on the sex trade.
Hopkins also puts in the effort to show different situations that could lead to sex work and different types of sex work. Seth ends up a high-class kept boy, but she doesn't glamorize his situation. His life is kept under strict control and he doesn't have the power to say no. At the same time, I do think she under-represents LGBT youth, despite two of the narrators being gay. LGBT youth are much more likely to be pressured into prostitution, particularly survival sex.
Her prose is restrained. Each narrator has a different rhythm, but still a simple rhythm. The poetry is a vehicle, one Hopkins has under firm control. Her lines flow smoothly into one another, sometimes between stanzas. This provides a very natural sense of delivery, as if the five stories are being delivered without reflection, just the words of the moment.
Honestly, I still don't think I'm an Ellen Hopkins fan. She's bringing light to important issues in a powerful way. I can see why her poetry speaks to so many people.& I think her writing is beautifully clear. I'm impressed that she managed to write five stories that never quite converge in one book but still make them seem like they all fit together. But I'm not sure there was enough aside from the issue to compel me.
Fans have been clamoring for a sequel to Tricks, which I can understand. It ends quite openly. There is no sense that all five have escaped sex work, just that they have emerged from the nadir to survive another day. Five happy endings would be false and jarring, but there is no sense in Tricks that the journey has finished, just the message.
And while I'm confessing things, I might think that that is a con, but it is absolutely the reason I am going to read Traffick, I want to keep turning the pages, even though the book ended.