Summary: Until Lily enters their lives, Devon and his dad are pretty happy as a father-son pair living on their own since Devon’s dad took him away from his drug-addicted mom. Lily changes everything though, worming her way into Devon’s dad’s heart and mind while systematically changing Devon’s life. When Devon’s dad becomes seriously ill, Lily convinces him to bring Devon and come with her to Vietnam for treatment, but her true intentions are much more sinister than the restoration of Devon’s father’s health. Devon finds himself living a nightmare after Lily sells him into sexual slavery, clinging to the hope that someday he will have paid his debt and be able to go free.
Number of Pages: 191
Age Range: 15-17
Review: They Called Me Red by Christina Kilbourne is a story you can’t look away from. Devon finds himself evicted from his life by his dad’s new girlfriend Lily. Seeming to have Devon’s dad’s best interests at heart, she injects herself into their lives, pushing Devon to the side as she does. Before Devon knows it, Lily’s sons from Vietnam have moved into their new house and Devon’s dad needs a liver transplant. A trip to Vietnam gives Lily the opportunity to pay some debts by trading Devon to a woman named Long who caters to men who like to sleep with boys, and Devon loses his father and his freedom before he knows what is happening.
I admit it sounds far-fetched, but it worked. When Devon’s nightmare ended, Kilbourne writes a believable exploration of what coming back from such an experience would be like. She surrounds Devon with characters who are able to support him as he recovers, and he gets a happy ending after all.
It’s a roller coaster ride of a read for mid to older teens that I couldn’t put down. While I wanted a clearer punishment for Lily and an answer for whether she killed Devon’s father or not, I was still satisfied by how Kilbourne wrapped things up for Devon and gave him direction for his life.
“Word must have gotten out that Long had a new boy at her place because the restaurant got busier. Men came in to look at me. They walked right up and played with my hair, looked into my eyes, and examined my freckles. I felt like one of the zoo animals that we used to visit at home, and I knew right then, without a doubt, that those animals wanted to be free.” – Devon from They Called Me Red by Christina Kilbourne, page 95
“”For now we just need to get you home.’
Home. I couldn’t even picture home so it was a meaningless word.” – Conversation between Detective Pearson and Devon from They Called Me Red by Christina Kilbourne, page 131
“I thought about what Joy said, but I didn’t believe any of it. I didn’t believe anyone could really help me or that anything would get easier. When I looked forward I couldn’t see a thing – it was like looking into a deep, dark train tunnel, and it scared the hell out of me.
The cold wind made me shiver. I knew Joy would be happy to get walking again, so without another word, I turned away from the dock and pulled up my hood. I realized things hadn’t changed so much after all. I still didn’t have my own life, and in a way I was still trapped.” – Devon from They Called Me Red by Christina Kilbourne, page 142
“‘It seems like just a few months ago you were learning to walk,’ she said. ‘I can’t believe its been twelve years. You were the best thing that happened to me. But your father was right to take you away.’
‘You’re not angry with him?’ I asked.
‘Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes I don’t know how to feel.’
I nodded. I knew exactly what she meant and I liked that she didn’t have an answer. It made me feel as if I wasn’t so alone.” – Conversation between Devon and his mom from They Called Me Red by Christina Kilbourne, page 172
“In between me telling her this story, she told bits of hers. They are both sad stories, but the surprising thing was that sharing mine helped me as much as her. Since meeting Anna, I’ve told others this story too, mostly young people who arrive at the shelter and don’t trust anyone, who think they’re to blame for what’s happened to them. I like telling them because it makes them open up and then we can help.” – Devon from They Called Me Red by Christina Kilbourne, page 190
They Called Me Red by Christina Kilbourne is published by Lobster Press, (2008).