There is a long, beautiful tradition of women writing about their lives as an act of personal liberation and political transformation. I remember slipping Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings off of my grandmother’s shelf as a young teenager and swallowing whole the story of Maya and her rediscovered voice. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison broke me open. Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, Isabelle Allende, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Caroline Knapp…the list goes on. And another critical volume just got added: Rachel Lloyd’s Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls are Not for Sale, an Activists Finds her Calling and Heals Herself (out next month).
In this powerful new memoir, Lloyd, who founded and runs the Girls Empowerment Mentoring Services, widely known as GEMS, details her life, seamlessly interweaving her current work and a more socio-political analysis of the domestic trafficking of girls and women. Lloyd, of course, has an incredible and infuriating wealth of real world experience with this issue, both personally and professionally, but what really “makes” the book is what a truly gifted writer she is. The memoir moves quickly, propelled by skillfully drawn scenes and important insights about risk and recovery. Normally I underline and write in the margins of my books, but this one moved so quickly forward that I didn’t have time to double back. Just as that unexplainable force that comes from deep within rises up and allows Lloyd to save herself at her darkest hour, it is as if the reader is inspired to believe that we can tackle this issue despite the grim statistics peppered through out Girls Like Us (for example, “a 2007 study shows that 75 percent of sexually exploited and trafficked children in NYC were in foster care at some point in their lives”).
During one of the first moments where Lloyd really steps into her own destined power as a leader in this movement, she describes a circle where survivors speak out: “As so we tell our stories. One by one, slowly with no interruptions, no sanitized versions, no omissions. We tell how we grew up, how our parents failed us, how we first entered the life, how we felt turning tricks, and how much we hurt on the inside because we couldn’t really explain it to anyone…when it comes to my turn, I just tell is raw and true.”
We will all be better for it.