It's been a whole year since this book came into my possession. For months, it stared at me from my bookshelf. No, really. The cover is of a girl, begging with her eyes for you to help her. It sat sideways because I wanted to read it. I had to read it. Not just because a new friend wrote it and I wanted to support her work, but because I knew how powerful it would be.
I met Paige Dearth last summer. She was a force all her own and we instantly clicked. We're both real and honest, perhaps to a fault. She's going to tell you like it is and so am I. After chatting with her throughout the week, I knew I'd enjoy her style of writing.
I also knew her subject matter would make me squeamish.
Paige writes fictions with MEAN-ing. All of her books are about children who are victims. One Among Us is about a young girl, Maggie, who is abducted from the mall when she is 12. She then spends the next decade being bought and sold as a sex slave, a prostitute, and even an indentured servant of a stripper.
This book is powerful, impactful, haunting, and full of pain. It is also full of hope. Maggie never fully gives up on herself. She is a pillar of strength for those around her, even though she feels weak. Page after page, Maggie drew my tears and gained my heart.
She is relatable, at least, for damaged folks such as myself. No, I was never a sex slave or a hooker. I've never been a stripper. But I know what it's like to feel utterly alone and hopeless. I know the feeling of abuse. I know what it's like to feel imprisoned--like there is no escape and the only way to be free is to die. But, like Maggie, I never gave up and I ended up even stronger for all I've been through.
Personal rant below...
This book inspired me to do research and learn some more about this scourge of modern slavery. It made me realize how close I was to becoming a trafficking victim myself when I was young. A number of times, I believe my brazenness saved me from becoming a victim. In fact, my research made me realize that my own husband was briefly a slave. Had he not found friends at Mosque who saved him and gave him a new home, who knows what would have happened to him? I certainly never would have met him.
Both of our tales are long and won't be told here. But they're not the only real life shit shows that this book reminded me of. I knew this girl in high school... We've drifted in and out of each other's lives for over 25 years now. I can't keep her around all the time because she's drowning. I can't emotionally/financially support her while also keeping my own head above water. At times when her life is not so dark and heavy, she'll find me or we'll find each other randomly in public. We'll briefly reconnect before she starts to sink again and I can't be there anymore.
That sounds bad--like I'm abandoning her. But it's hard to find a homeless drug addict when their phone gets shut off. Or when they block you because you didn't delete their mother or sister or auntie from your Facebook after they made some ranting status update that said everyone needs to do this or be blocked. Yeah. Once, I couldn't leave work to drive two hours to Jefferson City to pick her up at a bar. This was pre-Facebook, but my number got blocked.
Anywho... That girl was trafficked. It took me a long time to put it all together but once I was told, her home life when we were kids made a lot more sense. It all clicked when I found out the abuse, the rape, and the selling of her body had started so young. She wasn't even in kindergarten yet when her father started molesting her. He was gone before we were in high school, but the damage was done. She wound up being one of my friends who got pregnant and had a baby in high school. Most of them were 16; she was, too.
She didn't graduate. She became a stripper. And a hooker. She sold her body so that her family wouldn't lose their house. And so they could all do drugs. But they knew. They trafficked her.
Tragedy struck, and her baby died. She disappeared for months. It's a miracle she came back alive, but she always was a survivor. She was such a resilient person, I never feared for her with such an extreme severity as I have for others. She's strong and capable of healing, as long as she believes and doesn't give up on herself.
Last I heard, she'd gotten married. They have children and a mostly drug-free life. I'm happy for her, and for the fact that her family is no longer selling her body to pay their bills and fuel their drug habits.
Rant over...back to the book
One Among Us by Paige Dearth made me cry more than any other book I've ever read. That has earned her a place as one of my favorite authors. She made me feel deeply for her characters. She breathed life into them on the page and made them tangible. Her subject matters are difficult but important. She puts a voice to those who can't speak for themselves loud enough to be helped. She writes about things that need to be discussed more, that need to be understood by more people. There are so many misconceptions about damaged people and this novel helps to dispel many myths about sex trade workers.
The truly horrid scenes aren't too graphic, but they are just graphic enough to get across how awful it is for poor, victimized children like Maggie and the others.
I highly recommend this book. It will make you cry. It will make you want to stand up and seek justice for victims of human trafficking. Do it. You won't regret it. Helping others is a noble act.
Find all of Paige Dearth's books here. Buy them. Read them.