Little Peach is a short and absorbing page-turner with an important message: It is a glimpse, albeit a fictionalized one, of what is happening to some very young girls. The novel feels very realistic and gritty, and is completely depressing and upsetting – I usually don’t read this sort of unrelievedly grim novel, but as it is one of the nominated books for YALSA’s best fiction list for young adults, I knew it would be worthwhile.
14 year old Michelle is forced to leave home after her grandfather dies and her drug addicted mother feels her daughter is threatening her relationship with her boyfriend. Chelle gets a one way ticket to New York to meet a friend, but on arrival, realizes she has no way of finding her and no money to go back to Philadelphia. In steps smooth Devon, who offers assistance, food and a bed for the night. Though not unaware, Chelle is naive enough to accept his help at face value, and within just a few days is forced, though with a velvet glove, into prostitution, along with the two other girls in Devon’s ‘family’.
Ms. Kern captures the speed and ease of Chelle’s downward spiral – it’s inevitable and predictable. The abuse and degradation Chelle faces is clear and horrifying, though it is not graphic or prurient. On several occasions, Chelle, now re-named and tattooed as “Devon’s Little Peach,” tries to think of a way out, but her fractured family life, her increasing addiction to drugs and dire economic situation leave her feeling without options.
Chelle’s yearning for security, home and a family blind her to what is really going on. It is only when one of the other girls vanishes, that she faces her situation head on and some faint tendrils of a different future sprout, but it would not be a true reflection of life for there to be any sort of happy ending and there isn’t.
Chelle appears to be African American, and I inferred that Devon and the other two girls were as well, though I don’t believe it is clearly stated. It is not suggested that race is the catalyst for Chelle’s hardships, rather it is her individual circumstances.
The author’s note (and I read an ARC, so it might have changed) includes a staggering statistic that the “in the United States, the average age of entry into prostitution is 13” but no source is given. Apparently this is a commonly used ‘fact’, though one that has been disputed for some time. Additionally, Ms. Kern doesn’t give any concrete suggestions for actions that a teen reader might be feasibly able to take; nor does she include any organizations or resources that could be helpful.
This is not a book for a teen to read casually, but it powerfully, and without exploitation, shows an aspect of American life that it real and should be known.