After her beloved grandfather dies, fourteen-year-old Michelle leaves the Philadelphia hood to find her friend Erica in New York. But as soon as she gets to Port Authority, her world comes crashing down: she’s alone with a mere seven dollars to her name and half an address on a slip of paper. But then she meets Devon.
Devon buys her a meal and gives her a place to stay—the sort of kindness that Michelle just isn’t used to. But everything comes at a price…
Little Peach is my third Dive Into Diversity read. Though Peggy Kern, the author, is white, the protagonist is an African-American girl…and the subject matter isn’t exactly something I usually go out of my way to read. Child prostitution is a tough subject for anyone to read about, I would think, and not one that’s written about very often. But it’s important to read about, I think, because it happens—and far too often. In the afterword, Ms. Kern notes that the average age for entry into prostitution is thirteen (thirteen!) and, in the New York City area alone, experts estimate that over two thousand girls are being sold for sex. That’s just…inconceivable.
As a piece of fiction, Little Peach is…interesting. It’s very short, and my copy has large print and probably about 1.5 spacing, if not double, so it didn’t take long at all to read. The writing is good and the story, a fictionalized amalgamation of experiences that Ms. Kern collected from former victims of child prostitution, is heart-wrenching. But it’s hard to nail down exactly how I feel about it.
For one thing, I expected it to be longer. Because it was so short, it almost seemed abbreviated. But on the other hand, I can’t really think of anything I’d want added to the story. We have a good picture of where Michelle grew up, and why she wouldn’t think twice about getting on a bus with a one-way ticket to a city she’s never seen; we see the aftermath and the judgment cast upon victims by those who are supposed to help them. We see how easy it is for men like Devon to choose and trap victims, and how they make promises and threats to keep their victims under their thumbs.
The narration was interesting, too. In alternating chapters, we get slices of Michelle’s life before New York as well as pieces of the aftermath, as she lays in a hospital bed, beaten and bloody. These latter parts are narrated in second person, addressed to the social worker who tries to convince Michelle to tell her what happened. The rest, narrated in first person, shows Michelle’s complete and utter incomprehension of what’s happening to her until it’s far too late. It’s…upsetting.
I think what I was most surprised about, honestly, was that Michelle’s experience was so brief. Don’t get me wrong, any time spent as a victim as any kind of sexual abuse is far too long. And the book ended somewhat ambiguously, so I don’t know for sure that Michelle gets “saved.” But she only spent a few months with Devon; I expected a longer story and maybe a deeper look into child prostitution. Not that, you know, I’m dying to read more about the terrible things these young people go through.
It’s really hard to say whether or not I enjoyed this book. I don’t think it’s something that you’re supposed to enjoy; it made me feel icky, which makes me think it did exactly what Ms. Kern wanted it to do. It’s powerful, certainly, and addresses the issue of human trafficking in an accessible way. I think it’s something that’s important to read, but if you’re particularly sensitive to depictions of violence or rape, I wouldn’t recommend it.by