CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 19. . . .January 19, 2018
Ride or Die. (SideStreets).
Wanda Lauren Taylor.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2017.
184 pp., trade pbk. & EPUB, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4594-1249-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-1250-7 (EPUB).
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Penta Ledger.
Danny pulled in at a tiny hut on the side of the road. An old woman was selling scoops of ice cream for a dollar-fifty each. Danny told Kanika it was his favourite place to get ice cream. They got out and ordered two large scoops each. Kanika had Moon Mist and Danny ordered a scoop of strawberry and a scoop of chocolate. Kanika squished up her face at Danny’s choices.
“I like my sweet things to be chocolate.” Danny laughed, winking an eye at her.
Kanika knew he was referring to her being Black.
“Your skin is so beautiful,” he said.
Danny led her to the side of the hut where there was a worn-out picnic table. He climbed through on one side and she climbed in across from him. They gazed into each other’s eyes as they hurried to eat their melting cones. Danny was finished long before Kanika so he just sat and stared at her. Kanika was self-conscious about him watching her. She was careful with every bite. She knew Danny could tell she was nervous, but he continued to stare.
“Ever had a boyfriend before?” Danny finally asked.
“Of course,” she lied. She didn’t dare say no.
“I mean a real boyfriend.”
“Sure, kind of.”
“Naw, I’m not talking about those little bitch boys at your school. They’re just cubs. I’m talking about getting with a real man.”
Kanika was excited by the fact that Danny was older. She was dying to know what it would be like to be with him.
When Kanika finished her ice cream, they thanked the lady and headed back to the car. They continued to make their way through town. After a few minutes, Danny veered off onto a winding dirt road.
He must have seen Kanika’s confused look. “A friend of mine lives here,” he explained. “He’s working in Halifax for five days. So we can chill out here for a bit and watch some TV.”
Soon they had parked and were inside the tiny bungalow. Danny started kissing Kanika eagerly. She kissed him back. They stretched out on the sofa, holding each other and kissing. They watched movies until dark. Danny asked Kanika to stay for the night. He promised to drive her back home in the morning.
Kanika thought about how angry she was with Aunt Becky. She thought of how much she wanted to erase what she had read in that newspaper article.
“Okay, I’ll stay,” she said.
Danny smiled as he led Kanika to the tiny bedroom. The only furniture was a freshly made single bed, a small nightstand on either side of the bed and a tall dresser in the corner of the room. There was a full-length mirror attached to the wall by the door.
Kanika’s hand shook inside Danny’s.
“Don’t be scared,” he said gently. “I won’t hurt you.”
Danny laid Kanika across the bed and pulled her shirt off over her head. He kissed her lips and neck. Kanika knew what they were going to do. She was afraid, but at the same time, she wanted it to happen. Soon they were both naked. Danny pulled down the blankets and joined Kanika in the bed.
Even though Danny kissed and caressed her, Kanika felt pain as Danny tried to enter her several times. But as soon as he was inside her, she felt tingling all over her body. She stared at the mirror. In it, she watched Danny’s body rising and falling on top of hers. The sweet smell of his cologne filled her nostrils. Kanika grabbed Danny’s hair as he breathed heavily in her ear. He whispered that he loved her and that he would always take care of her.
When it was finished, Danny rolled over to her side. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“It was your first time.”
“Yes.” Kanika was embarrassed.
“Don’t worry, you’re all woman now.”
She smiled as Danny kissed her cheek. He rolled over and closed his eyes, but Kanika couldn’t sleep. She lay there and replayed the event over and over in her head as Danny snored beside yer. You’re all woman now. The words echoed in her mind as she finally drifted off to sleep.
Kanika Adams is a 15-year-old living with her ‘overbearing’ Aunt Becky, and all she wants to do is get her own life. Her best friend, Panama, has curfews set by her parents, but the two still find time to ride double on Panama’s bike and tour around their rural community of Guysborough, ON, dreaming of their new lives once they can get to Halifax. However, their country life doesn’t end up being as benign as they think.
Weeks before school is going to let out, Kanika and Panama are the only two witnesses to a fight between two boys on the basketball team that puts one of the boys in the hospital. Kanika and Panama are called to the principal’s office, but Kanika tells Panama to keep her mouth shut about the whole thing. After some quick questions, Panama can’t keep it in and tells the principal everything. Kanika says nothing, and, although she’s disappointed in Panama, she lets it go. After school, the two head out to a hideout cabin that only a few people know about. Well, a few people did know about it until people started talking. Now Kanika doesn’t know who will be there. It is a place of their own, though - their place apart from rules, parents, and Aunt Becky. So, they bike out to see who’s there.
When they open the door, Kanika already has reservations. Gabe, one of the guys from school, grabs Panama around the waist and gives her a huge open-mouthed kiss. Kanika is disgusted! She knows something isn’t right. Kanika leaves happy-Panama at the hideout and decides to walk home by herself. She figures Panama will roll by on her bike by the time Kanika reaches home, but she doesn’t. Kanika slips inside and goes to sleep.
In the morning, Kanika overhears her name as Aunt Becky speak to someone on the phone. Aunt Becky doesn’t say anything but asks Kanika where she was last night and if she was with Panama. Kanika, of course, doesn’t tell the real story, finishes her breakfast, and goes to school. She thinks she’s see Panama, but Panama isn’t at school. By the end of the day, Kanika is really concerned. She asks her aunt about the phone call and learns that Panama is missing.
A day passes and Kanika wants find Panama, so she goes to the last place she saw her, the hideout. When she approaches, she sees that Panama’s bike is still leaning by the guardrail. Though she finds this strange, Kanika makes her way to the hideout. Just at the door, Kanika can hear Gabe and another boy, Danny (Kanika’s current crush), talking about not calling the police. That they had an agreement, and that if they back out, they’ll be in big trouble with some seriously scary people. Kanika slips off the step, and the boys hear it from inside. Kanika jumps up and runs as fast as she can out to the road and home. The boys didn’t see her, but now Kanika knows that something very bad has happened to Panama and that those boys are involved somehow. Her next step is to get close enough to Danny to figure out what’s happened to her best friend.
Kanika plans to get close to Danny by flirting with him. This isn’t so hard for her since Kanika has had a crush on Danny anyway, and she thinks that she might be able to help Danny if he’s into something he can’t get out of and, at the same time, find out about Panama. She finds her opportunity when she’s invited to a dance by Sasha and her long time boyfriend, Roger. Kanika knows that Sasha’s considered a “ride or die” chick in her relationship with Roger, but she doesn’t know what that means - yet. At the party, Sasha helps Kanika connect with Danny, and the sparks begin to fly for the couple. Kanika is swept off her feet!
On a certain night out, Danny says he loves Kanika and wants her to show her love for him. He asks her what she would do to prove her love. He only wants to be with a ‘ride or die’ chick - a girl that will do anything to prove her devotion. Kanika will do anything and even agrees to withstand her biggest fear - having rats crawl over her! After this scary event, Danny says he loves her more than ever. Kanika believes she’s finally found the love of her life and doesn’t want to lose Danny at any cost.
The next days and weeks, Kanika and Danny are inseparable, although Aunt Becky has reservations. Aunt Becky comes down hard on Kanika and blurts out what she never wanted Kanika to know - information about her dead parents. Aunt Becky’s never told Kanika about what happened to her parents, and this heated conversation prompts Kanika to look through old boxes searching for something - anything. She finds newspaper clippings about the death of two people - a prostitute and a pimp! Kanika can’t believe it! Her dad was her mom’s pimp, and, together, they ran a sex-service! After being set up by police, both were shot during the take-down. Kanika feels betrayed by her aunt. Why hadn’t she ever told her? With tears rolling down her cheeks, Kanika is shocked from her thoughts by Danny’s beeping car horn.
Danny and Kanika are going on a trip to Halifax - Kanika’s dream! Danny picks up Kanika in her driveway and Kanika opens the door to a blonde girl, named Crystal, in the front seat. Danny explains this away by saying that they’re going to give her a ride to Halifax as well. Kanika takes him at his word, and soon the three are on their way.
They arrive at a dark house, but Danny assures the girls that it’s fine. He leads them inside and introduces them to Kita. From this point on, Kanika and Crystal are on their own. Danny has turned them over for ‘initiation’ into the sex-trade, and there’s no chance for escape.
The next weeks and months are filled with fear. The girls are put in a house and made to work. Kanika sees Panama there and tries to get her to escape, but Panama is too scared to leave. After witnessing and experiencing many horrific things, Kanika finally gets the opportunity to escape - and she does.
Kanika finds her way home and reports everything to the police. Within a short time, the police take the whole gang down and Panama finally gets back to her parents’ home. Although the girls are safe, their lives are changed forever. They struggle to fit into their old lives and can’t really talk to anyone about their horrific experience - but at least they have each other.
Taylor’s quick paced novel deals with the dark side of teenagers and the sex trade. The opening of the text presents a typical story about two teenage friends who dream of their exciting lives as adults, but soon, the story takes a turn. Although the switch from teenage friends to being caught up in the inescapable world of the sex trade is abrupt, Taylor does a solid job of knitting the narrative together. The plot points are convincing - enough to demonstrate to the reader how such an atrocity could happen (and probably does) in real life.
The writing is clear and maintains its page-turning pace, prompting the reader to continue. Though the close of the novel leaves the reader in suspense instead of offering a sense of catharsis, with the unexpected turn of events throughout the narrative, the ending is right.
Due to the nature of this novel, I would recommend it for senior readers or adults. The sensitive subject is dealt with thoroughly, but at the same time, it is not overly graphic. I know there are senior students that would quickly read Ride or Die because of its shock value, but I don’t know that I would necessarily recommend it as a ‘good read’. That being said, Taylor has done a solid job of shining a light on this dark subject and warning young girls about the possibilities that are out there.
Penta Ledger is a teacher-librarian at Gravenhurst High School in Gravenhurst, ON.
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University of Manitoba
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