By Isabella Biedenharn
Updated September 29, 2015 at 03:12 PM EDT

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.




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 Swore

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.


A Chat

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.

Pounding. Exploding.

You try to fight the bad wind,

and everything slows.

Your breathing.

Your heart.












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.


Walk Straight

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.

Teen Prostitute

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.