Review originally appeared in School Library Journal, June 2020.
Gr. 9 & Up: Seventeen year old Alexa (Lex), known as Poppy by her pimp, Mitch, is forced into sex trafficking and drug use, living in a motel with other young victims. After a police bust, she recovers at Sparrow Brook where she enjoys the horses and new friendships. She moves in with her Aunt Krys and her husband Jamal, where she is safe and loved, but still has trouble trusting people. She finds strength in new friends: Elsa, her gay neighbor and Zack, a cute boy who tutors her for the summer. After aggressive bullying and sexual assault by a boy she is dating at school, she is involuntarily thrown into the limelight. With the help of her well-meaning friends, family, police detective, and her doctor, Lex focuses her energy on moving on from the pain of her past and helping others, and perhaps feeling what true love is along the way. McLaughlin’s debut novel is timely, gritty, and raw, never sugarcoating the heartbreaking life of the strong female protagonist. The ending leaves readers with hope for Lex’s future. VERDICT: Recommended for additional purchase for older teens due to the mature and often graphic content of sex trafficking.