In a classic, serendipitous New York City moment, a book deal for a debut YA novel, Trafficked by Kim Purcell, was set in motion one evening on the subway. In November 2009, Viking children’s editor Kendra Levin was on her way home from the theater when she overheard two women talking about the National Book Award readings that they had just attended. Levin tuned in because she had wanted to go to the readings but her theater tickets prevented her. The two women then moved on to chat about a book one of them was writing. Levin’s ears perked up when it became apparent that the novel centers around human trafficking, a topic that has long been of interest to her. Levin recalls thinking to herself, "This actually sounds really interesting."
The more she heard, the more she was intrigued, but her next thought, as a wary New Yorker, was, "Should I say something or is that creepy?" Levin put herself in the writer’s shoes and decided it would be a welcome intrusion, but her subway stop was nearing. When the writer and Levin both exited at the Park Slope station, Levin decided it was meant to be. And so, a conversation took place – right there on the platform of the F train.
After apologizing for eavesdropping, voicing the usual disclaimers ("it may not be for me"), and clarifying that she only worked with YA and children’s writers, Levin learned not only that the book was indeed intended for the YA audience, but also that the manuscript was already with an agent, Kate Lee at ICM, who intended to send it out that very week. Levin handed Purcell her card and was contacted by the agent the next morning. Within a week, Levin read the manuscript and bought the book.
Trafficked tells the story of Hannah, a recently orphaned Moldovan teenager’s path from good student with a tight group of friends and a promising future in her homeland, to a slave held under lock and key in a foreign land. When she is brought to Los Angeles as a nanny, Hannah is unaware that she has been sold to – not hired by – a family that takes advantage of her circumstances and threatens and abuses her.
A former journalist, the author travelled to Moldova to gain an understanding of the circumstances that would lead a girl to take the leap of faith of moving to another country and subsequently get caught in a terrible situation. "I learned that in almost every case, these people had chances to escape,” said Purcell. “Many times there were no physical restraints. They’d been threatened and filled with such fear that they couldn’t move. And I realized that we are all stopped at times from doing things we want to do or things we should do, because we’re afraid."
The novel pubs today. Make that eight million and one stories in the naked city.
Trafficked by Kim Purcell. Viking, $16.99 Feb. ISBN 978-0-670-01280-0