Friday, August 14, 2015

On the Bookshelf: It's time to talk about trafficking & exploitation

Happy Friday (Oh, and happy feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe!), and welcome to this week's installment of literary discussions! As I have mentioned in the past, I like to share my recent library or bookstore finds with all of you, to help cultivate discussion and reading lists (because what bibliophile does not want to expand his or her reading list??). Today, I'm going to share with you two books that, at face value, might seem COMPLETELY different: the memoir of a former stripper, and a Catholic dystopian novel. As a fair warning, this post may be a bit uncomfortable to handle; these books both cover extremely sensitive topics. So, I ask that you please open your mind, take a deep breath, garner all of your respect, and join me.

I Am Margaret, by Corinna Turner. There are some dystopian novels which I have enjoyed, and others which I’m not that interested in. I absolutely love The Giver, by Lois Lowry. I enjoyed the first two books of The Hunger Games trilogy, but I only read the third one because I wanted to see how the love story played out (I know, I know…but I was getting married later that summer, so I was all lovey-dovey romantic, okay?).  It seems like bookshelves and movie theaters are swamped with dystopian works, and many of them look fairly similar to each other, so I don’t even bother picking them up.

I am so glad that I picked up I Am Margaret. My poor husband; I was not very good company for him as I was glued to this book for an entire weekend! I had to keep running back to this story, anxious for the characters whom I quickly grew to love.

Immediately, the author thrusts us into the action. Margaret, an eighteen-year-old woman who loves to write and is bad at math (oh, how I can relate!) bravely faces the Sorting. Here, her fate will be determined. Will she pass, and be allowed the life of a normal adult? Or, will she be sent to the Facility, where after an uncertain amount of time, Margo will be dismantled? Margo does not want her life to end with her body parts being divided into bags and sent around the country (understandably), so she and her peers will do whatever it takes to survive. Or will they? What role does a sense of morality play in our actions? Does it play any role at all? Should it?

Amid the thrills, suspense, and horrors of this novel, Corinna Turner has “baptized” the genre of dystopian fiction. She gives us a riveting story and relatable characters who encounter struggles similar to what we face. While we are not trying to avoid dismantlement, we do have to make choices constantly. To act or not act? To speak up or be silent? Should we attack a place if innocent lives may be killed? And what if there are two poor choices, but we need to decide anyway? The characters of I Am Margaret don’t always make the right choices, and they suffer from the consequences. Still, they keep trying to choose the best options in the face of tragic circumstances. Many of the main characters are Catholic, and they fight to survive while keeping their consciences and sense of morality intact. This can lead to some very interesting situations, like the well-crafted love triangle which arises.

This dystopian novel is a work of thoroughly Catholic fiction. I don’t say this to scare away people who are not Catholic, but to instead show what a powerful piece Turner has written. In fact, I will venture to say that this story, which is an excellent, high-quality piece of fiction, can be enjoyed by a person of any faith background. There are many elements in this story which can provide a unique insight into the traditions of the Catholic Church. Some characters in this book are part of the Underground—Catholics who fear the worst of punishments if they are discovered by the government. They speak in Latin when they have conversations secretly with each other (so cool!). They make the sign of the ichthus with their fingers, to ensure that they are of the same faith (reminiscent of the Story Keepers cartoon show from my younger days, which told about the lives of early Christians during the persecutions).

Corinna Turner has created a lush, believable setting, where real characters are trying to do the right thing—and survive. In today’s world, it is not easy to be a person of Faith. Do you need evidence? You need only look at the persecutions of Christians in the Middle East. In this novel, people are killed, dismantled, and their body parts and organs are sent away to other facilities. While I was reading this, videos about the trafficking of the organs of unborn children were being released. Eerie, isn’t it? I Am Margaret is scarily relatable, but the book does not leave me in fear. Rather, as the characters hold onto hope and each other, they fight for the Truth, and they strive to live. So too, we can all hold onto hope and keep fighting for justice, peace, and life. I highly recommend this book to older teens and adults.

If Only I Could Sleep, by Stephanie Henry. I first came across this book when I decided to look up statistics about sex trafficking in Oklahoma. After all, we're in the middle of the U.S. and only 7 hours away from Houston, where, sadly, quite a bit of sex trafficking takes place. Anyway, as I was Googling information about statistics, the activist Stephanie Henry flashed across my computer screen. I discovered that this woman has been exploited, hurt, and painfully battered by life. Yet, she has come through all of it strongly, with hope and courage, and fights to end human trafficking, exploitation, and abuse. As soon as I learned that she wrote a memoir, I requested it from the library. I read the entire book in one day, people.

 In this memoir, Henry grants us the special privilege of seeing life through her viewpoint and experiences. She takes us to the bathtub where she was molested by a relative. She takes us into the strip club where she earned money to pay monthly child support for her daughter. She takes us past the picketers and into the abortion clinic. She brings us into wild parties where she uses illegal drugs. She shows us the long, messy process of healing, and she brings us immense hope. Sporadically throughout the book, the author points out the subtle workings of God's grace through different people and events. In all of the stories that Stephanie Henry recounts, she does not provide gratuitous details, which I appreciated, but instead helps us to understand how she felt and how certain instances affected her.

The author does not shy around the problems that she deals with. While she has been forging a new, incredible path, she still makes mistakes. She still falls. And she just keeps going. I appreciate her openness to share herself, her story, and to have this conversation with us.  All of us, no matter what we have been through, need to learn from this woman. Yes, we stumble, we fall, and we’ve been hurt. We need to take what we've been given, use our experiences to help others, and keep on trying. We see the steps that led to a downwards spiral, which can help us become more aware of how we can help others. We see the humanity and goodness in another person, and we desire to help her. Stephanie Henry is a voice for all of the people who have been abused and exploited. We need to bring awareness to the plight of these people, and do what we can to help change our society.

Just a few blocks away from where I live, a black windowless building stands on a street corner. Daily, my husband and I drive by this place, and I always say a little prayer as I cringe at the existence of this establishment. After reading Stephanie Henry’s memoir, I glance over at this strip club with new eyes. I still cringe at its existence, but my heart first goes out to the women inside. Many of them probably don’t want to be there, but they feel the need to. Maybe they have their own children they are trying to support. Maybe they have faced a life of abuse. We need to think about these women, and bring awareness to their plight (and stop supporting establishments that exploit people). 

These books both discussed different areas of exploitation, abuse, or trafficking, which all contribute to an unsafe, unloving culture. Not only that, but these books both show hope. We can change society and end trafficking, exploitation, and abuse. We need to start having conversations about how we can cultivate a culture of true sacrificial love, the dignity of the human person, joy, and safety for all people! Thank you so much for joining me today. If you have any questions, thoughts about these books, or book recommendations, feel free to drop me a note or comment! Have a wonderful Friday! 

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