One of the major appeals of the KONY 2012 campaign to capture brutal Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony by this December is that, in a contentious election year, it is a nonpartisan effort. The poster to advertise the campaign illustrates that theme, with a Democratic donkey and a Republican elephant coming together in the white dove of peace. A similar cause that crosses political lines and has attracted teen activists is that of human trafficking.
While Kony’s depredations have been concentrated in central Africa (though his Lord’s Resistance Army has crossed from Uganda into neighboring nations), human trafficking in its various forms exists throughout the world, including in the United States. Kim Purcell’s recent YA novel Trafficked introduces this topic to teen readers in an effective way. Along with her resourceful, likable protagonist and suspenseful story, Purcell offers information on how to stop human trafficking worldwide and how to recognize it in one’s own community.
Seventeen-year-old Hannah, from Moldova, has agreed to work as a nanny in the United States after the death of her parents in a terrorist bombing forces her to drop out of school. Although she is naïve—her ex-boyfriend warns her against taking the job—she also has a lot of fight in her. A Russian couple has arranged for her to take care of their two children, but they refuse to pay her, and when she begs them for the money—she hoped to be able to pay for her grandmother’s surgery—they turn hostile and abusive. Hannah longs for a normal life like that of the teenager next door, an overweight boy who has a strained relationship with his divorced parents. Eventually, the two sneak out of their respective homes and get acquainted, an action that leads to horrific consequences for Hannah.
One of the strengths of Trafficked is the setting—an upper middle class suburban community in southern California where the traffickers hide their actions from their neighbors and the lack of sidewalks and nearby stores helps to immobilize victims. Like Hannah, neighbor Colin is an ordinary teenager thrust into an extraordinary situation, and through his basic decency he serves as a model for getting involved. As Hannah tries to understand why the Russian husband, Sergey, chose her, the suspense rises and readers are treated to a subplot that introduces the independence struggles of former Soviet republics like Moldova and the greed-driven capitalist underworld in what once was a tightly controlled communist system.