Genre: YA Contemporary
Format: Paperback (Proof Copy)
Goodreads Summary: Aleksandra has issues with her voice. Stress makes her stutter, and her life is one of stress. She can only speak clearly on stage, freed by the words of the character she plays. Then, when Aleksandra befriends her new neighbour Megan, and through her meets charming, handsome Ruben, it seems she has discovered a doorway into a different world, and a different Alek. But Ruben wants Aleksandra to play a particular role for him, and it is one that will come close to destroying her.
I picked this Proof Copy up from the Barrington Stoke stand at YALC 2016 as I had seen a few of my friends with it and was curious as to what it was, but had very little knowledge of what it was about. Later that day I saw the author speak on the ‘Morally Complicated’ panel and I was so glad I did. I had never read or even heard of a YA that dealt with the subject of child prostitution and the fact that it was banned in Italy, Salvi’s home country, intrigued me even more. This book was definitely a difficult read, but one that told an extremely important story about a topic so many of us choose to ignore.
After Aleksandra’s grandmother dies and she moves in with her estranged mother, she unwittingly gets pulled into the world of alchohol, drugs and prostitution. As the reader, we see signs early on that this world might not be as fun and glamorous as Aleksandra thinks it is, but her sheltered upbringing leaves her naïve to things that we might see as obvious. At first I wasn’t sure about our protagonist as a character, but she totally grew on me – her back story was fleshed out as was her character throughout the book and you really begin to worry and care for her. I found many of the side characters engaging with Helena taking the cake for me. Despite being secondary to Aleksandra’s story we get a sense of who these people are and what has brought them to this place.
I thought the pacing of this relatively short book was excellent as we are shown all of the important events that lead and contribute to Aleksandra’s spiral into this world that is neither rushed nor drawn out. I also thought the translation of this book was brilliant – there are some beautiful sentences and phrases in here that I can only imagine are similarly wonderful in its original language. Salvi creates a dark and seedy atmosphere throughout the novel that only becomes more sinister as it goes on. There were at times I became overwhelmed and had to put the book down when I was reminded of just how young these girls are in the book and the horrible manipulation they suffered from.
This story is an important one about a topic that often goes unspoken about, and I am so glad that Salvi overcame the censorship she experienced in her own country to tell it. This book is tough, gritty and honest and tells an important story that I will be thinking about for a long time.