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The LureFrom Goodreads: From the bestselling author of the Daughters of the Moon series comes a gritty, sexy novel about a teen who is forced to become a “lure”-a beautiful girl who is used to lure victims of gang violence.

Fifteen-year-old Blaise Montgomery lives in the gritty outskirts of Washington, DC, where a stray bullet can steal a life on the way to school. Drugs and violence are the only ways to survive, so Blaise and her friends turn to gangs for safety, money, and love. When Blaise is invited to join Core 9, one of the most infamous crews, she jumps at the chance. Though her best guy friends, Rico and Satch, warn her about the danger, she agrees to be beaten for a minute straight as part of the gang’s initiation ritual.

Now Blaise is finally part of a crew. A family.

But things get only more dangerous when she becomes a member of Core 9 and tensions with a rival gang heat up. Trek, the head of Core 9, asks Blaise to be his “lure,” the sexy bait he’ll use to track down enemy gang members and exact revenge. Rico and Satch tell her it’s a death sentence, but Blaise can’t resist the money and unparalleled power. As Trek puts Blaise in increasingly dangerous situations, she begins to see that there’s more to lose than she ever realized-including Satch, the one person who has the power to get under her skin. With death lurking around every corner, should Blaise continue to follow the only path she’s ever known, or cut and run?

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I have been extremely fortunate in life having grown up in a safe neighborhood with two loving parents that supported me in everything.  I never had to worry for my safety when walking out the door, didn’t need to look over my shoulder at school, never had to know alternate routes to get home, worry about gunshots at all hours of the day, or whether there would be enough money coming in for my parents to pay the bills.  I knew where my next meal was coming from, what colleges I wanted to go to, how I would pay for my education after high school, and that I could obtain my goals in life without much standing in my way.

Blaise Montgomery doesn’t live in a safe neighborhood.  Her mother is a drug addict, her father is dead, and her grandmother works late hours and brings home little money.  Leaving her house is a risky choice, day in and day out.  In order to stay alive, Blaise has to know multiple ways around her community in case the ever present dangers of gang violence close off a route, or two.  She has to know what hallways she can walk down and what stairwells to avoid in school if she wants to get home in one piece, with her virginity still intact.  She worries about her grandmother who works too hard and doesn’t have enough money to feed Blaise, let alone herself.  Blaise would love to go to college, but can barely scrape by in school because survival is on her mind 24/7.  The present is all that matters, and she knows, just like everyone else in her neighborhood, that life ends all too soon.  She’s seen people try to better themselves, try to get out, but most of them end up in body bags.  So what’s the point?

While I have never experienced any of what Blaise experiences, the cold hard truth is that many, many children grow up in this exact environment, and as a high school teacher working on the cusp of the city, I’ve taught many of students in a similar situation.  I didn’t used to know these places really existed, not until I became a teacher.  If you don’t experience it, or you don’t know someone who has, it’s very easy to live in a bubble that just understand that there are many struggling to survive. And it’s a heartbreaking experience to realize that yes, this is real.  Just because I haven’t lived it doesn’t mean it’s not.  And while it’s easy to look down on people in these situations, saying they need to get an education, that they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, that’s not a reality.  What’s more important?  Education or food? Education or life? Education or belonging?

If you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you’ll note that physiological needs come first, and then that of safety.  People need to have their basic needs met—food, water, excretion, sleep— before they can move up the scale.  If these needs are met, then safety takes over. Those who don’t feel safe on a regular basis are, therefore, unable to move up the scale.  They’re unable to have true friendships, or focus on family, because the very real fear for their safety controls everything they do and think.  This explains exactly what Blaise is dealing with on a very real level.  She barely has any food—she’s hungry a lot of the time, and she’s scared for her safety.  Her need level has plateaued between Physiological and Safety.  But once she’s part of a gang, once she’s found her “family,” she’s able to move up to the Love and Belonging stage—a stage she’s been yearning to grasp for some time.  So it’s no surprise that she joins a gang in her neighborhood—a gang that literally beats her into it as their hazing ritual to see if she’s tough enough to stand within their ranks.  And it makes me sick, but I’ve found that this hazing experience is another truth in terms of gang life—one I first heard about when discussing life with my students over the past few years.

Within Core 9, Blaise fits in, and now she can begin to work towards self-esteem, confidence, achievement… except being in the gang doesn’t guarantee extreme safety, and as Blaise realizes fairly quickly, there is just as much to fear inside a gang than there is outside of it.  So, she finds herself hovering between the Safety and Love/Belonging stage in the Hierarchy of Needs.  Is it any wonder, then, that Blaise can’t focus on school?  That she can’t foresee herself ever getting out of her ghetto alive, let alone bettering herself and going to college?  While we may want to judge her, especially as the media likes to focus on the few amazing stories of those who “got out,” who “pulled themselves up by their boot straps,” this isn’t that story.  This is the story of the many who are left behind.  This is the story of those who can’t get out.

Of course, Blaise makes decisions that I hat—and so do her friends.  Of course, I wanted to knock “some sense” into them as I read, to scream at them to call the cops, to run away, to do something… but in all truth, why call the cops when you know they can’t help you?  Why run when it will only show your weakness and land you a bullet in your back?  Blaise has more sense than I ever would have in her shoes, and though the going is tough and she’s finds herself in a very precarious situation, she continues on as best as she can.  And that is pure courage.

Originally I didn’t want to pick up this novel.  I was afraid it would focus on servitude sex and the downtrodden woman.  But it doesn’t—Blaise isn’t raped and any mention of sex is more so glossed over.  Instead, what this novel does do is show the very real truth about gang violence and the people who grow up surrounded by it.  It shows the many dangers in life that a lot of us don’t even realize exist.  And it breaks my heart, but this is one intense, powerful read if you really understand the truths behind it.  Five amazing stars.

5 starsHarperCollins Publishers and Balzer + Bray have been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this powerful novel, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review prior to its release on February 11, 2014.

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