I finished this book a couple of days ago but I needed some time to mull it over, to put my thoughts into order, and give The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis the kind of review it merits.
So what did I think of this book? I was conflicted but overall I loved it. Now, you might be asking yourself why I loved it if it also brought out conflicting emotions in me? That is a good question with many different answers but the most simple is that it was an incredibly difficult book to read; the subject matter (sex trafficking, prostitution, and sexual exploitation) was a heavy one and I wasn’t sure how this would work in a young adult novel. Whether it would be given the depth and nuance that the subject matter warrants. Even while reading, I was pretty tense wondering how the story would resolve.
Suffice it to say, it wasn’t necessarily an enjoyable read. However, it was a very important one and I’m glad I persevered. Despite the heavy topic, the were moments of levity and the inter-personal relationships between the characters were wonderful. I almost can’t believe this book is author Charlotte Nicole Davis’ debut – the writing is almost flawless and the story very engaging.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. This story begins with a character, Clementine, one of the titular ‘Good Luck Girls’ of the title, preparing for her induction into the ranks, her ‘Lucky Night’ where her virginity is sold off to the highest bidder. At sixteen years old, it is now her time and the book opens with the preparation for this. She will soon be joining her elder sister, entertaining ‘brags’ (marks or clients), forced into a life of prostitution that there is no escape from.
This is a very clever narrative choice: you as the reader are sucked in right away. The nerves that Clementine feels, the growing sickness when you realize what is going to transpire hooks you in right away. When the dread manifests fully, and the absolute worst happens you feel the same sense of panic and fear that Clementine feels, you almost feel that it is you that is getting the life choked out of you when her client takes a vicious and violent turn. When she overcomes her aggressive ‘brag’, you feel nothing but relief, until you realize that Clementine has accidentally killed her client. You don’t feel bad for him, you just know Clementine will be the one who pays the ultimate price.
The novel then switches over to Aster point of view, Clementine’s older sister who has always been her protector, and stays there for the rest of the novel. Aster has been living the life of a ‘sundown girl’ for over a year now. She is angry, so very angry, at the helplessness of their situation. She would do anything, anything at all, to spare Clem from this fate but has, thus far, been powerless to help her.
When Aster discovers what has happened, she knows they have to try and make a run for it. There is no way in which Clem would make it out of the situation alive. Made difficult by the tattoos each girl adorns (which are infused by a certain magic that prevents them from removing or covering them up for any great length of time, thereby rendering them unable to escape their bondage), the two girls are forced to call upon two of Clem’s closest friends Tansy and Mallow (who have yet to become sundown girls), and one of Aster’s greatest enemies Violet (a fellow sundown girl who has always been the favourite: spoiled and entitled) to engineer their escape.
Somehow, beyond all expectations, the five girls do manage to break free of their house but they are soon embroiled in a deadly chase, pursued by raveners from their house (men able to torture them with powers and break their minds) and family members of the deceased patron who are seeking revenge. They meet both friends and foes during their travels, on a search to find the mythical Lady Ghost who legend states can remove their markings. A chance encounter with a young rangeman named Zee might be their salvation, or perhaps their downfall…
Well, this book certain packs a helluva punch! Gut-wrenching is the only word I can find to describe it. Gut-wrenching and heart-breaking at the same time. My heart bled for these young women: Aster, Clementine, Tansy, Mallow, and Violet. All of them had been through so much hurt. I honestly don’t know how they were able to pick themselves up and endure. Aster, in particular, really stood out. She was so fierce and protective of her sister (and later the rest of the girls). She was a wonderful character and I think it was a very good choice to follow her POV.
I loved the diversity of the main characters. Aster, Clem and Mallow are all POC as are many of the supporting characters. It makes their story even more meaningful.
There is little to no romance in this book (which I think is a necessary choice given the subject matter). If I held any criticism it is that the character of Zee felt a tad extraneous (and Clem’s connection with him felt a little bit forced) but that was only a very minor thing. I loved everything else: Aster’s strength, Violet’s resilience, Tansy and Mallow’s unquestioning support and Clementine’s goodness. These characters were all wonderful and will stick with me.
The ending did feel a little abrupt but I am glad to find out there will be at least one other novel (maybe more? I’m not sure). This story deserves to be told and I can’t wait to see how it develops. Aster and Violet are the ones whose story was most left hanging and I am eager to see more of these girls and their overcoming of their hardships.