It might sound weird, but I think of peaches as a hopeful fruit. Those juicy little gems that show up for just a few short months in my cold, snow filled world. They’re the symbol of summer and sunshine. Hope and happiness and warmth. Little Peach is anything but hopeful. It is heartbreaking. From the first page to the last, summer heat and childhood are converted from playful innocence to absolute darkness.
Michelle is a young teen who’s lost the only person in her life that might have been able to save her. Once her grandfather dies, she’s left to fend for herself in a house with a mother who actively dislikes her. This is not a distracted mother. This is a legit terrible person. When she finds out her boyfriend has been molesting her child, she blames Michelle and kicks her out of the house. She has so little self-worth (possibly socially reinforced by the way she grew up – we don’t know if this is a systemic issue) that she is scared her fourteen year old is luring her grown adult boyfriend away from her. Even if – and come on, really let’s not even go there -but even if Michelle had flirted with him, who would want the kind of grown man says yeah, this child is the thing I want. Never okay. Ever.
So Michelle sets out looking for a new future with a name and half an address. And she meets a nice woman who tries to help her, but her distrust and fear is so deep she flees in panic. Right into the arms of the man (boy?) who will break her down as far as he can. I knew nothing about this book before I started reading it. I was doing the audiobook, so all I knew was it was short and the reviews I’d glanced at said it was gut wrenching. So I wasn’t sure where we were going. At first, Devon seems like a pretty decent guy. He doesn’t pressure her. He gets her food. He knows where she wants to go and no one else she’s asked has been able to do that. Devon is Michelle’s shining light in this giant city. And he doesn’t look like the people she’s been taught to fear. He’s not a junkie or a flashy tv pimp. He looks safe. He has options. He’s endearing. He cares enough to nickname her Peach. No wonder she goes with him.
And this is where Michelle’s already terrible situation gets even worse. From a life of molestation into a life of forced prostitution. The book drops us head first into the world of the child sex trade. It is terrible. Michelle’s situation is terrible. Terrible is not even a strong enough word, but I don’t want to through around those extreme words that we are able to brush off so easily. And I do not want to distract from how awful this is for her, but the character that makes me want to Hulk-rage is Baby. At eleven, she’s been in the trade so long that she doesn’t know there’s another way. This is just life. How do you ever move on from that? These are the years when you form what is normal for you. And normal for Baby is being put in a hotel room night after night and being sold off to men by other men. She has no autonomy. These girls even call Devon Daddy. He is their paternal figure. He is their lifeline. He takes care of them – in the worst possible way. But somehow, he’s the better option from where they came from. It’s a continual spiral into a hell that could exist behind any door.
What makes this book so poignant is how it takes these images that are supposed to hopeful and turns them on their heads. First with the peach. Then with Baby’s love of Finding Nemo. And finally with the theme park. Where Baby has begged and begged to go. Like any child, she just wants to go on the rides and eat junk and have fun. But when Peach and Kat finally sneak away and take her, it’s not what Baby expects. She gets so scared that she panics and draws attention. This little girl who has sex with multiple men on any given night is scared of the ferris wheel. It hammers home how young she really is. How terribly skewed her coping mechanisms are. And when her fish is left behind, her obsession with Nemo is revealed. We’re reminded that this girl was ripped from her home, because no one cared enough to look for her. No one is looking for these girls. Even when Michelle calls home and looks for help, she doesn’t get any. She ends up reassuring the adult because it’s too hard to accept that these kids are being damaged like this and it might be our fault.
The novel is fiction. The story is real. The child sex trade exists beyond the pages of books and the images on Law & Order. This novel is courageous and painful and directly in your face. It is 100% worth the read. And then it is 100% worth doing something about. Finding where you can provide support and compassion within your community. Because have no doubt, this exists where you live. Somewhere around you, there’s a Little Peach that needs help to escape her ‘Daddy’.