Book – Petrocelli
Author – John Rachel
Star rating – ★★★★★
No. of Pages – 327
Movie Potential – None! They’d have to R rate it and have all kinds of warnings about violence.
Ease of reading – very easy to read, with few grammar/spelling mistakes
Would I read it again – Possibly.
** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **
First, let me start with some warnings. This book contains extensive adult material and themes that may be considered offensive: human trafficking, child abuse, prostitution (particularly unwilling and underage), rape, mutilation, violence gallore, murder and slaves. Oh, and also offensive racist language, as well as swearing. None of this is graphic, but there are enough details to get the point across, so if these are triggers for you, you might want to have someone sympathetic read it first and let you know if you can stomach it.
After seeing that I had marked this as TBR on Goodreads, the author contacted me and offered a copy of the book, in return for a review. I was more than willing to help. The very idea of the story, from the blurb, intrigued me, after seeing it on someone else’s shelf.
What I got was a surprise.
Let me first say that this book is unapologetically brutal. In that, I mean the swearing, racist language, detailed (telling not showing) and graphic horror that is displayed in the lives of these children, who have been trafficked. This is a no holds barred account of the true atrocities caused by human trafficking, from both sides of the fence – the young girls trafficked into factories or the sex trade, as well as the men who push the trade.
The blurb doesn’t do it justice:
“Lenny Petrocelli had it made until his gangland bosses decided to set him up as the fall guy for a child trafficking prostitution ring.
If this gritty novel rings true, it’s for good reason. Petrocelli is based on actual stories from the violent and gruesome world of human trafficking, where millions of children and adolescents across the globe are held in bondage as slaves.”
Yes, all of it is true: it’s gritty, it’s based on actual true stories and doesn’t hold the punches on the factual, devastating truth of the trade. But, it’s so much more than that. It’s a lesson in human faith, human kindness, politics and more.
The writing style is unusual and not what I’m used to, but it works for this story. There are a lot of POV’s used to show the various angles of the “business” that is human trafficking and the results, for both the profit side and the young people forced into a life of service. This works, although it feels disjointed at first, because it shows you the cause and effect of everything that is happening, as well as the back story of some pretty major events/people.
Saying that, the really intense, uncomfortable situations are glossed over or described in a really sensitive manner, so that you know things are going on, but don’t actually have to experience them <spoiler> I’m thinking in particular to a scene that made me gag, at the end, where the use of “chocolate” and “lemonade” were used as euphemisms for something much worse. This worked for me, because it was gross enough that I couldn’t have handled the extra detail. <spoiler> I think that’s for the best. Even the glossed over version had me gagging or cringing and not wanting to continue, so I couldn’t have handled anything more.
In that same vein, I have to admit that had I not agreed to review this, I might not have finished it. Yes, it’s a long book, but that’s not the problem. The problem was the heavy emotional impact and the fact that I could only get quiet reading time at night, before bed. Not the best time to read this stuff, when it lingers in your subconscious and follows you into your dreams. I would have liked a break, halfway through, for a light and fluffy short, but I do think – now that I’m finished – that it would have broken up the flow of the story, so I’m glad I persevered.
You really get a feel that the book is more than a story. It’s a message. It’s the train wreck of a real thing that happens in the world – human trafficking – that you don’t really want to read about, but you just can’t stop yourself, because you’re hoping and praying, despite knowing better, that it has a decent ending.
There are some really crazy characters, some that would normally induce some swear words in my review, because they’re just THAT crazy, but I’ll refrain for Amazon’s sake. 😉
We start off with Shawna, a prostitute who works the Brooklyn streets and how she’s not happy about a new breed of girls that have arrived on her patch – the Djin Djin. She’s snarky and really jealous of these beautiful young girls creeping into her patch. But, she does provide a POV worth having. And when she pops up, you know things are going to get a little cray-cray for a while.
The Djin Djin themselves: These are a bunch of Asian girls, who have been taken from their family. The families are convinced that it’s better for them to be paid to give up one child of many, for the sake of their family. They believe the girls are going to an educational facility, to learn the ways of Buddha etc, but obviously, that doesn’t happen. You get to see the POV of one of these girls – Dawa, who goes through field work, factory work and finally the streets of Brooklyn. She’s a pivotal character and pops up with really important information. She’s also the one embodiment of everything most of these girls have to go through, displayed craftily in a very noticeable injury some of the girls share.
We also have John, who is one crazy Mo-Fo. After being in Vietnam in the war, he comes back kind of crazy, definitely suffering some kind of PTSD and convinced that all Asians are the devil. Oh, and he’s got a taste for killing. So he brings that back, too. He’s also convinced that he has this Bromance with God that is just a whole lot of disturbing and yet, totally makes sense for his character.
Two smaller characters eventually intertwine into one important event: Christine and Alicia.
Alicia is an old high school friend of Lenny (who we will get to shortly). She’s really important, because of the consequences of most of her actions, though I think she’s a bit of an idiot. However, her idiocy is what makes her important. She’s very quick to trust, to judge others, and always ready to believe the worst, but never the best of people. She’s also a little selfish, but in a “human” balanced way that we can all be, from time to time.
A smaller character, but equally important, is Christine. Christine is one of those Christian do-gooders (implied by her actions and naivety) who is blinded by their cause and can’t see what is clear, because they have the “bigger picture” in mind. Another character tries to open her mind, but while she’s stuck in this attitude, she can’t bear to imagine that the truth might be possible. It’s only after some thought, some coincidences and meeting Alicia that she gets her act together.
And, of course, we have the bad guys. We wouldn’t have a story without them. Ed and Harold are some sick SOB’s. I can’t really say more without giving it away, but they’d disgusting, vile, and make me feel pretty homicidal. These guys are the quintessential bad guys, but they’re also the driving force of the entire novel. The things they do and say have a massive impact on the story.
Similarly, we come to Father Mulcahey – now, I’m afraid I can’t say that name without a smile. It totally makes me think of M.A.S.H., so I’m going to refer to him as the Bishop from now on, as is done in the book. This is another all-important character, whose decisions and steadfast stubbornness affects the plot. Mostly in terms of poor Lenny. He’s not the same level of do-gooder as Christine, because he’s has his eyes opened to the darkness of the world for too long. But, he is naïve enough and so driven by a need to do what’s right, that he can’t really see the wood for the trees.
Which brings us to the main character himself. The most important POV we have is Lenny Petrocelli. Lenny is one of those street thugs who isn’t really high up the ladder, but he’s got a level of power and importance. Enough that he faces some serious backlash for it, at one point. It’s through Lenny that we see the real repercussions of the industry on those who run it. He is, by far, my favourite character of the story, which I never thought I’d say about a internet-pimp, but there you go.
Overall, there’s not much I can say about the plot, without giving the game away. I found it hard enough to describe the main players, without giving it away.
I will say this, however: the story trots along at a steady pace, that is appropriate for the story and the characters. Nothing happens in a flash. It’s only at the end (80% or so) that things begin happening quite quickly, which is also appropriate for the story and what’s going on. This is where the real climax begins (and don’t I hate the connotations that word brings to mind, after reading this!)
The plot is full of twists and turns. Now, being a massive fan of Murder Mysteries, I’m not stranger to having to figure out the who, what, where, when and why of a story. This one has twists coming that I couldn’t see for miles! There were quite a few deaths, events and circumstances that I would never have thought about, until they actually happened. Which is new for me and brilliant, because I’m rarely taken by surprised, by this kind of thing. But I was, pleasantly and not so pleasantly so. As I said, some of the characters were sick AF, so it’s hard to be “pleased” that they did something that surprised and disgusted me. In fact, it was so bad – or good, depending on how you look at it – that I could never figure out what was going to happen next. None of these characters were predictable, except that you knew whatever they did next would be even crazier and more insane than anything they’d done so far.
I really loved Lenny’s journey, as he went from a happy-go-lucky crook, with everything going along nicely, to a guy who was relearning about himself and the world, re-evaluating his morals and choices in life. He made quite the journey from solid crook to decent guy, in a very believable manner. He’ll never be squeaky clean, and he knows that, but it makes sense for him.
I also absolutely adored his relationship with one of the Djin Djin girls, Kimnai. Now, don’t go thinking I’m getting weird. Their relationship is not entirely innocent, but he never touches her, in that way. It’s a special kind of relationship that actually starts Lenny’s journey and sees him through to the very end. Although she wasn’t in it a lot and we never really saw her POV, I felt for Kimnai (almost) the way Lenny did. I wanted to see her journey.
The Djin Djin girls were amazing, in the sense that they might have been thrown into this awful situation, but they fought all the way. Not physically, but mentally. They fought to keep sane, to adjust to their lives whenever they had to, all so that they could survive one more day, in the hope of escaping and finding freedom. That was truly amazing. The things they endured, even admitting that they’d rather die than suffer them again, were revolting and horrible. But they fought a mental battle unlike any other character. For them, it would never be a HEA. It couldn’t be, after all they’d been through, but they could have a HFN. They fought for themselves, but also for their fellow Djin Djin, who they knew in their hearts deserved better, as they did.
Lenny had a special relationship with all the Djin Djin. Not because of anything physical, but because he was the first one to show hesitation, the first to see them as children that required protection, despite anything he was ordered or forced to do.
This was one hard hitting, gritty novel. Heart-breaking at times, with a few light moments and use of humour as a coping mechanism that I never felt I was drowning in the heavy themes of the story. Due to the factual information that led to this story being written, I feel it’s an important read. If you have any interest in human trafficking and need to know more about what these kids go through, then read this book. I knew nothing compared to what is contained in here and I’ll never forget what I just read.
This story will stick to you like glue.
The pace was brilliant, the themes destroyed my emotions and the epilogue was a brilliant little addition, to let us know what happened after “The End”.
As said in Lenny’s POV:
“He couldn’t bear to look. He couldn’t stop looking.”