In honor of Banned Books Week, EW is excited to reveal an excerpt from frequently-banned author Ellen Hopkins‘ next book, Traffick. Traffick, the sequel to 2009’s Tricks, continues in the style of its predecessor: a story told in verse, from the points of view of five teens who were involved in sex trafficking. Below, get a taste of the book with a poem from each character’s perspective. Traffick hits shelves Nov. 3, 2015.
EXCERPT FROM TRAFFICK by ELLEN HOPKINS
A slow swim toward the light, breaking
the surface to crawl back onto the beach,
here in the land of the living. It seems
like a worthy goal. So why do I wish
I’d died instead? Should that be the first
thought to pop into my head?
I open my eyes. Snap them shut again.
I’ve been treading dark water for . . .
I have no idea how long. I test the light
again, and the fluorescent glare against
white walls makes me bury my head
in the pillow. Bleach stink assaults me
immediately, fights the antiseptic smell
that confirms I’m in a hospital. Hospital, yes.
That information sinks through the fog
licking inside my head, syncs with
the onslaught of noises. Monitors
beeping. Ventilators whooshing. And
somewhere, there’s a game show on
TV. Tubes jut from my arms, and some
sort of brace wraps my midsection, limiting
movement, but I manage to swivel my head
toward the rhythmic snore marking time
very near my right elbow. Mom’s dozing
on a gray plastic chair beside the bed.
Her voice floats from memory. Come back
to me, Cody boy. Don’t you dare leave me, too.
And I remember her hands, oh God,
soft as rose petals, and fragranced
the same way, as she stroked my face
over and over, urging, Please, son.
We’ll make it through this. We always
make it through. But I can’t do it alone.
I want to help her make it through.
I want to go back to sleep. Except
I’ve finally accomplished what she’s been
waiting for—resurrection. “Mo-mom?”
I have to force the word through
a thick soup of phlegm and it exits
my mouth a hoarse whisper. She doesn’t
stir until I clear my throat. Cody . . .
she mumbles and her eyes stutter open
to find my own staring at her. Cody?
Are you really here? She jerks upright.
Oh, my God! She jumps to her feet,
rushes bedside, and grabs my hand.
Too hard. A wicked buzz, like a static
shock, zaps the base of my skull.
How Can I Leave
Here without her—Alex, my sweet
Alex. At least, she was sweet until
Las Vegas claimed her, made her
its bitch. This city is a pimp, selling
fantasies. For a time, Alex and I
were a fantasy duet, working for
Have Ur Cake Escort Service,
despite being a couple of years
underage. “Eighteen” isn’t necessary
to participate in a business that
props up the underbelly of Vegas.
It was not what I had in mind when
I ran away, but then again, I had no
plan, and sometimes it comes down
to survival. We survived, stripping
for pay in hotel rooms, mostly
working bachelor parties, two for
the price of one. I insisted on that,
refused to do more than take off
my clothes and dance. But Alex
couldn’t care less about spreading
her legs and accepting foreign objects,
as long as the dudes were willing
to pay the going rate. Then she got
greedy, started working the streets
so she wouldn’t have to kick back
Lydia’s commission. I found her out
there, soliciting some guy wearing
ugly purple Bermuda shorts. That
pissed me off, but in hindsight,
looking for revenge by offering to let
him buy all he could eat, double decker,
wasn’t the smartest move. Turned
out, he was a cop on a trash run, prowling
for teen hookers. Vegas has issued
stern orders: get ’em off the sidewalks,
bust their pimps and even their johns.
Detective Bermuda Shorts was only
doing his job. Tell me who’s sending
you out, the court will go easy on you.
Alex and I didn’t roll on Lydia
or Have Ur Cake. Luckily, Judge
Kerry was sympathetic anyway,
an honest to goodness do-gooder.
Nevada considers trafficking
children a serious offense.
This is not a victimless crime,
and you, young lady, are a victim.
I’d never get used to living like this,
at the beck and call, and under almost
total control of another human being.
I say almost, because after Carl, my ex
sugar daddy when I moved in here
with David, I knew enough to find a way
to stash some cash in case I ever need
an escape plan. Carl, who brought me
with him from Louisville, a trophy
houseboy to decorate his Lake Las Vegas
luxury condo, allowed me no chance at
personal resources. He wanted ownership.
Slavery is alive and thriving in Sin City,
Nevada. Maybe that’s why I gambled
on connecting with hot-stranger-in-the-gym
Jared—the growing need for rebellion,
or at least a taste of autonomy. Or maybe
it was simply because I’m only eighteen,
and still stashed inside is the belief
that love waits for me somewhere.
The Truth, However
If I’m to be perfectly honest with myself,
is that my attraction to Jared was totally
fed by lust. Well, lust and loneliness.
Carl may have provided well for me, but
he wasn’t much for companionship.
Working out, laying by the pool, and
improving my culinary skills didn’t exactly
tally satisfaction. Even the sex with Carl
(and sometimes an added friend of his)
didn’t add much spice to our relationship.
So, yeah, I was pretty damn hungry when
Jared showed up in gym, and that man
was something to look at. Ripped, not
an ounce of flab, and the chiseled face
of a god. I never suspected he was a ringer.
Carl baited the hook, and I bit. Hard.
When he reeled me in, I felt about like a trout
who knew that fly hadn’t looked quite right,
but just couldn’t help himself. And then,
Carl gutted me, threw me into the frying pan.
With the Grim Reaper
should be enough to scare
away any thought of relapse.
Wish it were that easy,
but not even days conversing
with death can disintegrate
the claws of addiction.
My memory banks
are foggy, misted by months
held fast in the arms of the Lady,
squeezed by need
you can’t describe, can’t relate
to unless you’ve experienced it.
I barely remember that last fix,
Mexican black tar instead
of my usual China white.
The Lady, she took me on
one hell of a ride
before we dove over the cliff,
falling, falling, falling.
Falling in slow motion.
Overdosing on Heroin
Is ugly business.
Well, the initial rush
is truly incredible. Similar,
I imagine, to a military jet taking
off, throwing you back in your seat
as you climb, almost perpendicular
to the ground. Yeah, close to that.
But then, the noise, a hurricane
inside your head, blowing.
You try to fight the bad wind,
and everything slows.
Withdrawing from Heroin
Is a whole lot worse.
When you OD, you have no idea
you’re tumbling toward death.
When you withdraw,
you have no doubt about it.
It’s like being underwater,
and really, really needing to breathe.
You swim as hard as you can,
but you’re too deep
and it’s taking too long,
you won’t break the surface
in time. If you inhale,
you’ll drown, but there’s no oxygen
left and your body’s on fire
and your lungs ache with trying.
Then, there’s projectile puking
and green water squirts.
Your joints throb and there’s no relief
for three days because you can’t sleep
without help from the poppy.
It’s all you can think about.
Just one more rig to kill
the pain and rescue you
from the black depression,
knowing you’re helpless,
smashed flat into the ground
beneath the feet of the Lady.
Was a godsend to me, maybe
even literally. I’d been sleeping
on the streets, crashing behind
dumpsters, offering myself up
to passersby for meager money,
barely enough to eat. I would
say “survive,” but that requires
being alive, and I was one of
the walking dead when I threw
a plea skyward, “Please, God,
please, if it’s your will, show
me the way out.” It wasn’t God
who actually answered, but
a priest in the Catholic church
I had sleepwalked into.
How can I help you? he asked,
trying not to look disgusted by
the odor clinging to the awful
Salvation Army clothes I wore.
I didn’t know how he could help,
but once he had no doubt about
my circumstances, Father Gregory
knew exactly how. He sent me here
to Walk Straight, a rescue for teen
prostitutes intent on a better life.
How can I ever reconcile that
title in front of my name? It’s so
contrary to everything about me—
the straight-laced daughter
of an evangelical preacher and his strict,
overbearing wife. Mama. At least
she was until she sent me to Hell on earth,
a reform school of sorts called
Tears of Zion, where they isolated me
in a tiny room, only a Bible for company.
Barely fed me. Rarely bathed me.
Forced me to meditate on my sins—
chief among them falling in love
with Andrew, the Catholic boy with
attitude and spiritualistic belief beyond
the ken of my hellfire and brimstone
parents. With love as my sin, it was
only proper that my redemption
would come at the hands of a devil,
my savior Jerome, a Tears of Zion
apostle with a sick appetite for sex
with young girls like me, who he wanted
to own. I did what he required in trade
for an escape route across the desert—
my path to prostitution when I fled from him.