I must say, I honestly didn’t expect to like any of Ellen Hopkins’ books. When you first open the book and leaf through the pages, it looks really simple. While all of her books are simple to read, the content is anything but. Her book “Tricks” is no exception.
Warning! Spoilers and mature content ahead.
There are five main characters in “Tricks,” all of which get to tell their unique story from their own point of view. This is a difficult feat to accomplish, as many times the reader can get lost in everything that is going on. Yet, Ellen Hopkins makes everything flow together easily. When there is a transition between characters, she ties them together with a few key words. For example, at the end of Eden’s entry in the book, she says, “Wave after wave of everything right.” The next person to speak in the book is Seth, and his first poem is entitled “Nothing’s Right.” It’s subtle, and if you aren’t paying much attention, you won’t notice it. It definitely escaped my notice the first couple of times that I read it.
Another thing that makes it easy to keep up with all of the story lines is the fact that she writes about each character in order. The order in which the characters are introduced is Eden, Seth, Whitney, Ginger, and then Cody. And it follow that order throughout the book. The predictability made it simpler to separate each distinct story line. It also helped that each of the characters had such complex and varying personality and background.
However, as good as the character development, background, and writing style is, this is not a book for the faint of heart. The themes are highly mature, and some of it can be quite triggering for others to read. I do not recommend this book to anyone especially sensitive to subjects such as rape. While it doesn’t go into vivid detail, the allusion to it can still cause great distress.
Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering what exactly this book is about. Well, in general, this is the story of how teens end up in the business of prostitution. That’s right, all five of these people, male, female, gay, straight, become prostitutes for one reason or another.
Eden is the daughter of an Assembly of God minister. Her entire family is highly religious, hence her name. Her parents believe that she should only be with men who are in their faith, and that she should only date when she is ready to marry. So naturally, when she starts dating the 19 year old Andrew, who happens to not be of their faith. According to her parents, he is all wrong for her. Yet, she seems to have fallen for this boy. After a while, she gives him her virginity. Andrew genuinely loves Eden, which is a nice refresher. Usually in books with romance, you see the girl go after the jerk who breaks her heart and then has a new guy swoop in to heal her. It’s her parents who ruin everything for her. Once they find out about her relationship, they become convinced that she is possessed by some demon and send her to this place called Tears of Zion. There, she is miserable, and she misses Andrew terribly. But of course, one of the brothers, Jerome, has taken a liking to her. She ends up using him to escape, and then she escapes from him by running when they stop at a truck stop. From there, she hitches a ride with some… Unsavory truck drivers who charge physical actions in order to drive her anywhere. Eden makes it as far as Vegas, and she has to sell her body just to get food. She has no where to stay.
Seth is a farm boy from Indiana. His mother died somewhat recently from cancer, and he lives with his father. While they aren’t as religious as Eden and her family, they’re Catholic. They don’t support gays whatsoever. Unfortunately for Seth, he is gay. But he stays in the closet. Even finds himself an older boyfriend in Louisville who takes care of him, takes him to fancy restaurants and such. Seth hadn’t planned on falling in love with Loren (the older boyfriend) but he did. And Loren loved him. But their relationship was cut short when Loren had to move away to finish his schooling. Seth was pretty bitter about it, so he went out and got himself a “sugar daddy” at a bar. That isn’t the end for him, though. Loren then sends a letter to Seth’s house, talking about how he was still fond of him and how he missed him, but he met someone new. Unfortunately, Seth’s father intercepted the letter and kicked him out because of his sexuality. This forces Seth into moving in with his “sugar daddy” in Vegas, but of course, this is all in exchange for sex.
Those are just two of the five characters, and there is a lot to say about each of them. Their stories are all different, yet similar. Each one has something in common with at least one of the others, and all of them end up selling their bodies in Vegas.
I love that this subject was written about. In society, prostitutes are looked down upon. No one respects them, and most believe that they ended up there because of their own decisions. While that is sometimes true, as is touched upon by Cody’s story, and to some extent, Whitney’s story, there is also the large amount of people who are dragged into it by circumstance, and those who are forced into the business. There are people who are tricked, as Whitney was, and become dependent upon drugs because of a pimp, who then forces them to have sex to pay for their drugs and keep their fix. Then there are those like Seth and Eden, who were backed into a corner and became desperate to survive. Of course, there are people like Cody who swindle away all of their money with gambling and turn to prostitution to make more money, in which case, they are responsible for their actions and the consequences that come with them.
There is a lot of raw emotion in “Tricks”. Not only are the stories themselves very powerful, but the format that the book is written makes it that much more powerful. Ellen Hopkins writes in verse, telling stories through a series of poems. For some, poetry is very strong and communicates many emotions in few simple words. While not everyone enjoys poetry, I suggest that you give this book a try at the very least. It may surprise you. I didn’t expect to like a book written completely in verse, and yet, this has quickly become one of my favorites. As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of mature themes and possibly triggering content. Your discretion is strongly advised, because while books are supposed to elicit emotional reactions, I would hate for anyone to go into any sort of attack based on my recommendation.
That’s all for now folks! Stick around next week to see what I’ll be reviewing. Keep your eye out for more Ellen Hopkins books! I am always taking recommendations!