“Hell isn’t some fiery/ pit ‘down there.’ It’s right here on Earth, / in every dirty city, every yawning town. / Every glittery resort and every naked stretch / of desert where someone’s life somersaults / out of control.” So says 16-year-old Eden Streit, near the end of Tricks, a free-verse narrative that takes readers and five narrators on a journey straight to hell.
It’s Eden’s narrative that opens the story. Her father is a hellfire-and-brimstone minister, and when he discovers Eden’s relationship with a boy outside their congregation, Eden is sent away for “rehabilitation,” with disastrous results. Four other teenaged characters—Seth Parnell, Whitney Lang, Ginger Cordell and Cody Bennett—face crises that catapult them into journeys Cody describes as a “snowball roll toward hell.”
The five separate first-person narratives of these teens eventually come together among the walking dead of the sex trade in Las Vegas. An intense, utterly compulsive tale that readers may well read in one day-long binge, this is a disturbing look at teen prostitution, a big problem in the U.S., where, as Hopkins says in an author’s note, the average age of a female prostitute is 12 years old. In alternating sections, narrators tell their stories, each section opening with a poem that could stand alone in its poetic and reflective power.
Hopkins is a fine practitioner of the free-verse novel; her voices are distinct and put readers directly into the minds and hearts of her characters. These are five teens that readers will come to know and care about, and at the end of the novel, there is, indeed, some amount of hope as they continue down their difficult paths.