CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 7 . . . . November 26, 2004
Carrie Mac is a strong new voice in Canadian YA lit., and her first two titles have probed the darker sides of adolescence, those places that many adults would prefer to pretend did not exist. In The Beckoners, Mac looked at the victims and victimizers involved in school bullying, with the physical and emotional bullying being carried out by girls. Charmed also deals with the exploited and the exploiters, but this time the subject matter is teen prostitution.
Isabelle, aka Izzy, McAfferty, about 15, is the sole child in what could appropriately be characterized as a dysfunctional home. Izzy’s mother, Linda, spends periods of time cooking in northern logging camps, and for the next six months Izzy is to be left under the “care” of Rob the Slob, Linda’s latest live-in boyfriend. The only thing Rob and Izzy share is their strong mutual dislike of each other. Izzy is certain, however, that when her mother returns and she is able to tattle on Rob concerning his infidelity, her mother will take her side and throw Rob out. Instead the opposite occurs when her mother comes back early, and Izzy finds herself being the one who is tossed out on the street for stealing money from Rob. While Izzy later tells her mother that she is staying at the home of longtime friend Margaret, in fact, she has moved in with Cody Dillon who had dropped out of high school the year previously. Though Margaret, a relatively straight arrow and Mac’s portrayal of the “average” teen girl, has warned Izzy about Cody, Izzy’s response is:
Izzy has been completely charmed by the continuing attention lavished on her by the older, very cool Cody, and so she turns to him when her mother evicts her. During her first night at Cody’s apartment, Izzy loses her virginity, but Cody does not immediately initiate Izzy into prostitution. Instead, for some three months, he romances her, supplying her with flashy clothes, food, accommodation, drugs and alcohol. When Izzy has fallen in love with him, Cody then creates a story about his being deeply in debt to Barrel, a drug dealer, who, if not paid within a few days, will “send his boys after him [Cody].” Willing to do anything to save Cody from a beating or something worse, Izzy, over Cody’s seemingly loving protestations, agrees to have sex with Barrel, just “a couple of times, and then we’d be square and we can forget it ever happened.” Instead, Izzy becomes a sex slave in Barrel’s residence. After a number of weeks, a naked, cut and bruised Izzy is able to escape and make her way to a hospital. Though Izzy does inform the police about her sexual slavery, Barrel and the three other prostitutes working for him flee before the law can arrive.
The subject matter and language of Charmed confirm that “Orca Soundings” is a hi-lo series written for a high school audience and not the younger audience that some purchasers may incorrectly assume from the books’ lower reading levels. A big bravo to both Mac and her publisher, Orca, for trusting high school students with being able to handle the shameful and ugly reality concerning Canada’s youth who are being first lured into prostitution and then are later trapped into continuing by their addictions or the physical intimidation of their parasitic pimps. Though Mac does not shy away from dealing with what Izzy is being forced to do, she does not treat the sex (actually rapes) in a voyeuristic fashion. Instead, readers experience Izzy’s revulsion: “I don’t want to think about how many times I’ve been locked in that smelly room with creepy men and that enormous bed.” Mac’s authentic treatment of her subject matter carries through to the book’s conclusion. While Izzy and her mother do reconcile, the reader is left knowing that Izzie has not only been robbed of the joys of her adolescent years but that she will also likely be forever scarred by what repeatedly occurred in that bedroom in Barrel’s “house.”
Charmed is the gold standard of what hi-lo titles can be.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in YA literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.