Despite its imperfections, Leila Mottley's gritty debut novel Nightcrawling, about an African American teenager who finds herself leading a prostitute's lifestyle on the streets of Oakland, California, is sincerely written.

From the fulsome praise of the blurbs from writers ranging from Dave Eggers to Ruth Ozeki, though, it is evident that they've done little more than skim through the book, because the topic is tragic and important, but Mottley's writing is choppy, uneven at far too many points and the novel is imperfectly plotted. Indeed, the main action does not begin until one is well past the narrative's midpoint.

However, given that its protagonist and first-person narrator Kiara 'Ki' Holt, although fictional, represents dozens of real ill-fated young women at the mercy of Oakland's dark and dangerous sex trade, the book is worth perusing for its morally admirable agenda alone.

At the novel's commencement, we're told that Ki's flamboyant, but criminal, father has passed away and her mother is incarcerated at a mental institution, having been determined a hazard to both herself and others. Still underage at 17, with an elder brother whose promises of becoming a rock star exhibit as much paucity as the family's collective savings, Ki attempts to get a job, to no avail.

A debut novel takes on the hapless fate of streetwalkers who are exploited by the very law enforcers who should be protecting them. But it suffers from choppy writing and imperfect plotting

Matters are made more stressful by the fact that Ki often has to babysit a young boy, Trevor, whose frequently stoned mother is too inept to care for him. A chance encounter outside a bar with a man who pays her a couple of hundred dollars for quick, but satisfying, sex leads Ki into a life of streetwalking.

Prostitution is considered a misdemeanour in the United States, so Ki attempts to remain in the police force's good books by permitting them to enjoy her body on occasion. In return, they turn a blind eye to her lifestyle and inform her of sting operations in advance so that she can protect her friends. Some of the policemen pay for her service; far too many do not.

At a point in her life when she should be loved and cared for by either parents or guardians, going to school and engaging in healthy activities, Ki is deprived of every one of those basic humanitarian necessities and forced to grow up too fast, too soon.

Her brother, Marcus, loves her, but he can safely be termed an...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT