This month, the best book I read was Runaway Girl, a memoir by Carissa Phelps.
I heard about this book while reading Walking Prey: How America's Youth are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery, another memoir by Holly Austin Smith. Both of these books deal with the aftermath of sex trafficking and life on the streets, and both are formidable in their retelling of their troubled childhoods and the events that lead to the chronic desire to run away and join life on the streets. But Phelps's memoir takes that extra step and really delves deep into the emotion and the pain leading up to her decision to run...again and again and again.
Raised within a sort of dysfunctional Brady Bunch, Phelps grows up as one of thirteen kids--the product of a blended family. Suffering from neglect and abuse, she makes the decision that living from day to day, floor to floor, couch to couch, is preferable to fending for herself emotionally and physically in her own house. Soon she's within the clutches of a pimp, and even when she escapes that terrible situation and is returned home, she's off and running again.
When you've grown up in an average household with an average upbringing, it's hard to imagine why living on the streets at the age of eleven or twelve is preferable to living in a family, even if that family isn't as loving as one would like. But Phelps describes her need to run as nearly physical--she describes it as an impulse, uncontrollable and necessary.
Runaway Girl is a riveting book. I couldn't put it down, and it's important from the perspective of America's youth and their need to feel safe, protected, and loved. The frightening part is when a teenager's need is so great, their view so twisted, that they see validity in the "protection and love" of a pimp rather than their own family.