In her own words: Local author Peggy Kern
On writing fiction for young adults: I write young adult fiction because I have tremendous respect for kids. I think we underestimate teenagers, who often have more passion and moral clarity than adults. It is incredibly hard to be a teenager, and books can help kids make sense of the world.
On her motivation for writing Little Peach: A few years ago, I stumbled across the documentary Very Young Girls. This was my first real exposure to the crisis of child sex trafficking in the U.S. I was devastated by what I learned. I had no idea this was happening in our country. I wept and wept and finally decided to write a book about the issue. It was very important to me to be as accurate as possible, to tell the story from the viewpoint of a victim starting from when she was child, because that’s when the tragedy begins for these girls. I wanted to show how poverty, together with failing social safety nets like our public schools, juvenile care facilities, and criminal justice system, contribute to the trafficking of minors. Pimps are certainly villains, but there are deeper issues, too. So I began spending time with sex workers in Brooklyn and learning more about their world and lives. My motivation is to shed light on this crisis and give voice to the victims, who are rarely – if ever – heard.
On Miracle and Jen, the women she interviewed for her research: Unfortunately, I am not in contact with Miracle or Jen. They put themselves at great risk by speaking with me. I would not want to endanger them further by contacting them now. I don’t know if they’ve read the book, but I hope so. They were my guides, my mentors, my educators. They taught me what Little Peach should be about.
On what can we do to address the issue of child-trafficking: This is a hard question – it’s the question - and I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer it. It’s frustrating because the issues are so large: poverty, economics, racism, sexism, apathy. It takes a whole society to create the conditions that crush girls like Peach, along with their entire communities.
I want to say that “awareness” is a starting point – and it is, I suppose – but awareness doesn’t save lives. Awareness doesn’t give victims a safe place to go. Awareness doesn’t rescue anybody.
So, my first suggestion is to find non-profits like the Girls Educational and Mentoring Service (GEMS) that are on the ground, fighting for victims. Ask them what they need from you, and give as much as you can. Also, talk about these girls. Don’t forget about them. If you read Little Peach, share your copy with a friend.
On her next book: I don’t want to jinx myself by saying too much, but it deals with the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s.
On a favorite book: The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz is a favorite of mine. I loved the narrative voice, which is so real and accessible. Oscar Wao reminds me to be brave on the page, to not flinch, and to tell the truth.
On a recent read: I recently finished Citizen by Claudia Rankine, which is a prose-poetry narrative of racism in America. It is absolute genius.
On advice for aspiring writers: Don’t waste your time writing about topics you’re not passionate about. It takes a lot of stamina to write a book. Your passion will keep you going – and it will also spill onto the page (an added bonus!).
Little Peach by local author Peggy Kern
Reviewed by Phil
“What do you do if you’re in trouble?” Michelle’s grandfather drills the advice into her. “Find a cop. Find a lady.”
Michelle lives in Philadelphia with her grandfather and her drug-addicted mother. When her grandfather dies, the attentions of her mother’s latest boyfriend cause Michelle to run. She spends the last of her money on a bus ticket to New York where she hopes to catch up with an old school friend, Erica. Erica lives in the notorious Pink Houses project.
Michelle is overwhelmed by her first exposure to New York. Hungry, and out of money, she does not know where to turn.
Devon is a friendly smile amongst all the strangers in the busy bus station. He offers Michelle a meal, and drives her out to the Pink Houses, where Michelle quickly realizes that there is little hope of finding her friend. At a loss for a place to stay, she finally agrees to go back to Devon’s place on Coney Island. Here, she meets Kat and Baby, and is quickly initiated into the world of drugs and prostitution. Devon is her “daddy”, and she is his “Little Peach”.
In researching the material for the book, Kern spent time with a New York detective, and interviewed two survivors of child prostitution extensively. The result is an authentic picture of the horrors of human trafficking. Kern handles the abuse and drug addiction deftly; her depiction of these is never gratuitous. This compelling novel is a wake up call to all of us about how easily the vulnerable are exploited.