I was in elementary school when my sister and I were dropped at my pastor and his wife’s house for an impromptu slumber party. Conveniently, they had girls the same age as my parents girls. Not so conveniently, someone my dad had become friends with through his day job as a street lawyer (think John Grisham but the million dollar case never walks through the door) had been attacked and needed a place to crash for the night. I don’t remember if the attack was ever fully explained to me. Rape? Domestic Abuse? I remember seeing her face on my way out the door, and that was enough for me to know I was glad my parents were taking care of her.
My parent’s decision to structure our family around the calling of my dad to the streets of Toledo Ohio, meant that I was exposed to a lot of things far before my friend’s parents were talking about those things to them. Drug addiction, sexual abuse, homelessness, poverty. All of these things came up at the dinner table, as my mom asked my dad how his day was and he told her the things he helped people with that day. I asked a lot of questions and my parents never shied away from the truth. “Well, Abby our friend Carey doesn’t have a job because he has some mental problems, so that mean he can’t have a house and has to sleep in daddy’s office.”
Their decision to face things more or less head on, gave me and my sisters age appropriate language to talk about some pretty serious things. I am grateful for that language. I am grateful they didn’t sweep things under the rug. When my friends were struggling with the darkness in the world, asking where God was in all of it, I simply shrugged my shoulders. I knew where God was in all of that, I had watched my parents as they became the hands and feet of Jesus to the least of these.
The terrible things of this world need talked about. How else are we going to know how to stop them?
Lately, I have heard grumblings that young adult novels are simply too dark. I hear that, I do. So many young adult novels are about cutting, drug use, sexual abuse, death. Do we really want our teens reading such dark material?
I have the privilege of teaching teens what are considered some of the greatest books of all time. These books may not be about teens, but they are just as dark. The tenth grade curriculum alone leads to conversations about power by way of simulated rape (thanks a lot Lord of the Flies) to mercy killing (courtesy of Of Mice and Men). Then there are the few weeks when we talk of nothing but death (Tuesdays with Morrie you’re such a laugh). This is what I know for sure, not only are these books not too mature for 15 year olds, but they are talking about this stuff anyway. At least this way, it isn’t whispers in the dark. At least in my room, there is an adult that can serve as a guide through these complicated issues.
I read Elora Ramirez’s Every Shattered Thing in two nights. It is nothing short of gripping. It is a tale of a girl, Stephanie, caught in sex trafficking through no fault of her own. Starting somewhere in the second chapter I started rooting for Stephanie, and had trouble putting the book down. It mattered to me, whether or not she would be okay. Every Shattered Thing is one of those, “don’t read unless you have time” kind of books. You have been warned.
I worry about the other warning this book is likely to come with, the one that says “this may not be suitable for your teen” or “it is simply too dark.” This is the warning that is likely to make me mad. Because, while Every Shattered Thing starts in a dark place, the story has a constant backlighting of hope. Hope. That is the truly remarkable thing about this book, the hope is the heaviest part.
It reminds me of the hope of my parents house. The way that darkness was not hidden from us, the way my parents trusted my sisters and I to be able to see the light in the darkness as they guided us carefully through this world. Elora does that with her audience, she does not shy away from the terrible. She instead believes they will be able to see the light, even in the darkest of places.
Sex trafficking is becoming an everyday conversation topic. It has come up in my classroom multiple times, and not because I brought it up. My students have heard whispers in the dark, read an article on the internet. They want to understand, to shed light on the subject. This book, Every Shattered Thing, it helps people understand. I know there will be parents who insist that the material is too mature for their teens. I hope they think again. Hope is heavy, and teens are so very strong in the holding.
*Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to review, and Elora is my writing coach and mentor. Even if she wasn’t, I would have written every word of this anyway.