Friday, December 27, 2019

Book Review: '30 Red Dresses' by Johan Twiss

Author Johan Twiss is a modern day abolitionist who supports the work of anti-human trafficking NGO's worldwide. He is passionate about curbing /stopping human trafficking, writing. Speaking, and encouraging other to join in his mission. Of note he also owns the online toy, craft, and handbag store called Playfully Ever After.

In discussing the progress of his writing of this immensely involving novella about human trafficking as it is played out in Cambodia, Johan states ‘One of the bigger twists I added was Veata’s “gift of colors.” I wanted a way to show how children can sense the emotions of those around them, yet still be overly trusting and innocent. In my own mind, I often associate emotions with specific colors. I do the same with musical notes and songs. Maybe it’s my inclination toward fantasy and science fiction, but when the idea for Veata’s colors came out on the page, I ran with it. But I didn’t want to turn this story into a full-blown fantasy with a magic system and powers (though I’ll admit, I had some ideas in that direction). I really wanted to keep it grounded in the real world. I worried about adding this twist with the colors, but as I looked at it in revisions, it just felt right to keep it. I feel it adds to the story instead of taking away from it.’

The summary of the plot is succinct but thorough – ‘While on a book tour in Cambodia, author James Moore unwittingly seeks refuge in a brothel to escape a devastating flash flood. He and his translator witness the atrocities of girls forced into prostitution, including a young child with a special gift. Together, they fight to not only save the girls from the rising flood waters, but from the menacing brothel owner and his men.’

Much of the magic of this story lies in the manner in which Johan is able to view the world and its kindness as well as atrocities through a child’s eyes. He opens with ‘I wonder if he will remember it’s my birthday? Veata thought. Chances were there would be no gifts and she would spend the day doing all the housework—as usual—but that did not prevent a smile from spreading across her face. Today I am eight! She prepared breakfast, enjoying the smells of fried eggs and curry wafting through the tiny one-room shack. The smells reminded her of her mother’s cooking, bringing a tinge of sadness to the happy day. It had been two years since her parents died from cholera and she desperately missed them—struggling to keep their faces in her memory. She was sent to live with her uncle, who spent his days gambling—that is, when he wasn’t passed out, drunk, or hitting her. Still, it was her birthday and she was happy. Veata heard a low growl from the other side of the hut and watched her uncle lazily roll off his sleeping mat. Rubbing his eyes, he sat up and grunted his disapproval at rising so early. “Good morning, Uncle,” Veata said quietly. Her special eyes saw brown, flat swirls of color slowly shifting around her uncle. He was tired and groggy, but she was thankful he was not in a bad mood. Since the time of her first memories, Veata had always seen the colors surrounding others. Her mom had been a bright yellow, like the sun, and her dad a watery bright green, like the rice fields he worked in. Her mom had always told her she had special eyes and that hers were a gift—the ability to see the aura of others—but Veata did not know what aura meant. To her they were just colors, and all living things showed her their true colors.’

Prepare for a powerful story that is about a topic difficult to discuss with young people – until this book. Recommended. Grady Harp, September 17
This book is free on Kindle Unlimited

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.