Curriculum changes bring slave trade sharply into focus

16th February 2007 at 00:00
Dirty Work. By Julia Bell. Young Picador. pound;9.99 (50p from each sale to Unicef), 13-plus

Oksana is nine when her mother dies and she has to leave school to look after her baby brother; her father's factory job barely pays in the new Russian economy and food runs out.

Julia Bell, who has a keen ear for teenage dialogue and concerns, has written a novel about what hap-pens next.

By 14, Oksana has encountered a minor gangster and been handed over to a child trafficker who rapes her on her first night away from home. A year later, shipped into the UK by her latest "owner" to continue her life of unpaid prostitution, she looks more than a decade older.

This short and shocking novel exposes modern-day slavery through the eyes of Hope, a sheltered English teenager kidnapped by Oksana's pimp. It reveals the secrets of windowless rooms above dodgy saunas, the brutal ways of Fat Burger Man and Gold Jewellery Man, and the drug dependency which keeps girls in their power.

Oksana's story emerges only as we have got to know her as a character and seen desperation give way to stoicism and hysteria. The rushed ending is too good to be true; everything else is painfully real

Geraldine Brennan

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