The startling realities of teen prostitution are revealed in this eye-opening, heartbreaking story from the author of America, which Booklist called “a piercing, unforgettable novel” and Kirkus Reviews deemed “a work of sublime humanity.”
As a teen girl in Newark, New Jersey, lost in the foster care system, Dime just wants someone to care about her, to love her. A family. And that is exactly what she gets—a daddy and two “wifeys.” So what if she has to go out and earn some coins to keep her place? It seems a fair enough exchange for love.
Dime never meant to become a prostitute. It happened so gradually, she pretty much didn’t realize it was happening until it was too late.
But when a new “wifey” joins the family and Dime finds out that Daddy doesn’t love her the way she thought he did, will Dime have the strength to leave? And will Daddy let her?
Dime Chapter One WHEN I FIRST understood what I was going to do, I expected to write the note as Lollipop. But in the six weeks since then, I’ve had to face facts. Lollipop has lived in front of one screen or another her whole life, possesses the vocabulary of a four-year-old, can’t read, and thinks a cheeseburger and a new pair of glitter panties are things to get excited about. Using her is just a poor idea.
Back in August, Daddy assigned Lollipop to me, saying, You school her. I must have been doing a good job hiding my insides from him, or he wouldn’t have. L.A. was still the only one of us who was allowed to touch the money. If she found out, it would be the second time she’d learn about Daddy asking me to hold coins. Which would only make things worse than they already were.
Lollipop didn’t know the difference between a twenty and a one. “What’s that?” She held out her hands, nails trimmed neatly and painted little-girl pink. She was polite, even if she was stupid. “May I touch it, please?”
“Nobody touches the money but Daddy.”
“Listen to you,” Brandy said from the couch where she was dabbing Polysporin on the cut over her eye that was taking so long to heal. “Cat gave back your tongue?”
“You’re touching the money now,” Lollipop said. She leaned her head in close to get the best look she could. Then she sniffed. At the one first. Then the twenty. “It stinks.”
“Stop,” I told her. “Money is dirty. You don’t know where it’s been. Don’t put your nose on it.”
Brandy grunted. “That there the funniest thing I heard all week.” She didn’t sound amused.
I pointed. “That’s a two.” I pointed again. “That’s a zero. That’s twenty.”
“I know that says twenty.” Lollipop pretended to be offended. She was obviously lying. “What’s that one?”
“A one next to a zero is ten. You didn’t even learn any of this from TV?”
“They have numbers on Sesame Street all the time,” Lollipop said. “And Little Einsteins. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. They have it on a bunch of stuff. So I know them, but I never paid attention to what’s more. Only I know a hundred is a lot and a thousand is even more than that. A thousand keeps me pretty in pink.”
“Do you know letters?” I asked.
Lollipop nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “TV and Uncle Ray taught me those.”
Brandy grunted again. “I bet he did.”
“Do you know how to read?”
“Some signs.” Lollipop scrunched up her face, thinking. “Exit.”
“Ladies. Um. Ice.”
I waited some more.
“Maybe that’s all the signs I know. But I can read two books.”
That didn’t seem likely. “Which ones?”
“ ‘In the great green room, there was a telephone and a red balloon . . .’ ”
Some kind of a hiss or a gasp or the sound of a punctured lung came out of Brandy.
“ ‘. . . and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon.’ ”
Brandy flew off the couch as much as anybody still limping can and smacked Lollipop so hard that Lollipop fell, a perfect handprint seeping onto her cheek. She didn’t cry out a sound. Not a whimper, not a squeak. She just got still, like a statue knocked over. You have to respect an eleven-year-old who gets smacked like that for no good reason and keeps quiet. That Uncle Ray trained her well.
“Brandy!” I stepped between the two of them. Brandy wasn’t weak, but this. This was a whole side of her I never knew existed.
Her face was twisted up again the way it had been the other day with Daddy, only now it was beat up from him, fat lip and bruised eyes.
“What was that?” Brandy asked Lollipop. Her cut seeped blood right through the shiny Polysporin. “What was that?”
Lollipop answered as plain as she could manage. She didn’t move any part of herself but her mouth. “Goodnight Moon.”
“Get off the floor.”
“Brandy.” Those flames that were lit in my belly the day we took Lollipop rose up, flaring. Was Brandy going to turn vicious now, on top of everything with Daddy? But Lollipop was standing, calm as anything.
“Don’t you ever say those words again.” Brandy smacked Lollipop’s other cheek. Lollipop went down. This time tears oozed like rain dribbling down a wall.
“Daddy’s going to kill you,” I told Brandy. Even saying Daddy made me want to slide through the floor and die, but there was nowhere to slide to and no way to die, so somehow I just kept on.
Brandy slipped around the corner to the alcove where my sleeping bag was. I heard her zipping into it. L.A.’s going to kill you! I wanted to shout, but the cat took back my tongue again. Anyway, probably Daddy was getting home before L.A., who was doing an outcall. So Daddy would get to Brandy first.
I hauled Lollipop up and propped her on the couch. I made sure the bills we had been studying were in my back pocket. Then I wrapped ice in a paper towel and held it to both sides of her face. She had white features and good, light-brown hair. Her skin was the color of wet sand. Mostly she seemed white, but with that color, it was confusing. She was prettier than the rest of us. Baby-faced.
“What’s the other book you know?” I asked her. “Whisper.” I didn’t want Brandy hearing anything else that might make her charge back out here. But it had been a long time since anybody could talk to me about any kind of book.
“ ‘Be still,’ ” Lollipop whispered. “It’s monsters. There’s more, but I can’t remember it right now.”
Somebody who smelled like barbecue potato chips used to cuddle me on her lap and read to me. I didn’t remember the reader; just that salty, smoky scent and something scratchy on my left shoulder every time a page was turned. I remembered the books, though: Goodnight Moon and The Snowy Day.
“ ‘A wild ruckus,’ ” Lollipop tried.
“Rumpus.” I used to love Where the Wild Things Are.
Fourteen-year-old Dime wants a home where she is safe and cared for—and free to read as much as she wants. But when her foster mother keeps making her miss school to babysit, Dime goes looking for somewhere better. She’s lured in by Daddy, a pimp with a stable of young prostitutes. Dime wants desperately to believe that Daddy loves her. By the time she sees through him, she doesn’t know how to escape. Giving up hope of ever having a good life, Dime resolves to help a girl younger than she is, regardless of the danger.
What would you do as a teenager if you had no family and no money?
1. Describe the settings of the novel, including the road trip. How important is setting to the story? What would the impact be if the story were set in a different large urban area?
2. Give specific details about the apartment and discuss how Daddy uses the spaces in it to reward and punish the girls. What does Dime value in the apartment?
3. Dime, who loves to read, makes many references to books. What role do children’s books play in the narrative? Which novels are important to her and why? If you’re familiar with one of the novels she mentions, talk about its significance in the story. Discuss why reading and the library are so important to Dime.
4. Describe Dime, how she changes in the story, and what causes those changes. What are her memories of being young and why do they matter? What role does school play in her life? What losses does she suffer in the story?
5. Discuss Dime’s foster situation with Janelle and what prompted Dime to leave. How did Janelle’s treatment of Dime change over the years? In what ways was it not safe for Dime at Janelle’s?
6. Daddy manipulates Dime and the rest of the girls. What words and actions does he use with Dime at first to get her to stay? How does his approach change when he wants her to work as a prostitute? Discuss why she finally sees through him.
7. Compare Daddy’s treatment of Dime to how he treats the other girls. Discuss the role of sex, jealousy, and violence in how he controls the girls.
8. Dime blames herself for “choosing” Daddy and a life of prostitution. She says, “I didn’t want to have to be a ho anymore. But I chose it, so now that’s all there was for me.” Using examples from the narrative, explain why she believes it was her choice. In your opinion, is that all that’s left for her? Discuss what her other options, if any, might be.
9. What is L.A.’s relationship with Dime, Brandy, and Lollipop? Cite evidence from the text that provides clues to her background and analyze how that affects her actions. Describe how she changes over the course of the novel.
10. Describe Brandy, her background, and why she is grateful to Daddy. What do Brandy and Dime have in common? How are they different? Point to scenes that show how they feel about each other.
11. Daddy and the girls, who are called wifeys, form a distortion of a real family. Analyze the theme of family and belonging in this novel. What does Daddy’s household, harmful as it is, offer that resembles a family? What are the girls’ experiences with families in the past?
12. How does the introduction of Lollipop into the group propel the plot forward? Describe her background and how she ends up with them. How does her presence motivate Dime to take action?
13. Discuss why Dime is so determined to save the baby. What do you think the rescue symbolizes to her? What are Dime’s plans, how does she prepare for them, and how well does she execute them to save the baby? Talk about what the consequences of the baby disappearing might have been on Lollipop and Brandy.
14. This novel explores power and its abuse on various levels including the rules on the street about how prostitutes interact with pimps. Describe “reckless eyeballing,” explain why Whippet slaps Dime, and discuss what purpose rules like this one serve for the pimps.
15. The issues of child sexual abuse and prostitution are interwoven in the lives of the girls in this novel. Describe the role sexual abuse played in the earlier life of each girl. In what ways did the sexual abuse make it easier for Daddy to turn the girls into prostitutes?
16. Dime quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird about courage. Discuss the theme of courage in Dime. How does the quote apply to Dime’s life and actions?
17. The prologue and various chapters throughout the book focus on the note that Dime is trying to write. Why does the author structure the story like this rather than in straight chronological order? Why does she repeat most of Chapter One in Chapter Twenty-Eight? Discuss the effect of the novel’s structure in terms of suspense and emotional impact.
18. The prologue and opening chapters also foreshadow much of the later action and give hints about the characters. Find specific examples of this, including Dime’s reference to suicide, and relate them to what happens later in the book.
19. Dime plays with the idea of who should be writing the note, based in part on the narrator in The Book Thief. Compare the voices that she tries out and how effective they are. Discuss the one-line note that she ends up writing and how it ties into the rest of the book.
20. A continuing metaphor throughout the book has to do with heat and cold that Dime feels inside. Find examples of this, such as the reference to a volcano, and trace how the metaphor changes in the course of the story. Analyze how effective the images are in conveying Dime’s emotions.
21. After her first time as a prostitute, Dime says that “There hadn’t been any tunnel or light or angels singing, but I know that I had died.” Discuss what she means and why the author chose that metaphor and the details she uses. What is the relationship of that passage comment to the final paragraph of the book, just labeled “Dime”?
22. Discuss what happens to Dime on the bridge at the end of the book. Based on her previous actions and her strength of character, speculate about what might have happened to her after she found the business card in her coat.
23. Find places in the text where Dime deceives herself about Daddy’s intentions yet reveals enough in her narrative that the reader knows she’s wrong. How does the author convey both Dime’s self-deception and the real situation? After reality sets in, Dime says, “I was fuzzy on a lot of things.” How is this fuzziness reflected in her narration?
Consider the figurative language listed below and find other examples in the text. What comparisons are being made and what effect do they have on the reader? Analyze the figures of speech to see what general categories they draw from, like nature or music.
—a poison eating their souls from the inside out
—looked like a little girl
—puffing up like a pillow
—holding her like a baby
—like the electric shock from the bad outlet
—as if I was in chains
—like watching it happening on TV to someone else
—my brain was like a silhouette of itself
—like a tortoise without a shell or a boat without an anchor
—like she was a goddamn queen
—eyeing laser beams
—oozed like rain dribbling down a wall
The Language of “the Life”
Visit the website of Shared Hope International, listed at the back of Dime, and examine the glossary of terms there (http://sharedhope.org/learn/traffickingterms/). Compare the language listed to the vocabulary that E. R. Frank uses in the novel like stable, wifey, track, date, and so on. Analyze the literal and metaphorical meanings of the words and phrases, including how many of them have references to family life.
Fiction Meets Real Life
The website for Rights4Girls has a one-page fact sheet with statistics about sex trafficking in the US (http://www.rights4girls.org/#!statistics/c4s0) Have students compare and contrast the information on the fact sheet with the situations described in Dime. Have them create a simple graphic organizer with two columns and as many rows as they need, with the Rights4Girls facts on one side and details from Dime on the other. To extend the assignment, have students write essays about how the author incorporated real-life information into her narrative.
The nonprofit Polaris, which works to end sex trafficking, provides a lot of information about state policies and laws on the subject (http://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/policy-advocacy). Have each student choose a state and research the current and proposed laws, covered in several website sections including “State Ratings,” which has downloadable reports about every state. Students should report their findings to the class. As a group, discuss Polaris’s ten-category system for rating the states and why each category matters in combatting human trafficking.
Guide written by Kathleen Odean, a former school librarian and Chair of the 2002 Newbery Award Committee. She gives professional development workshops on books for young people and is the author of Great Books for Girls and Great Books about Things Kids Love.
This guide, written to align with the Common Core State Standards (www.corestandards.org) has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
E.R. Frank is the author of America, Friction, Wrecked, and Dime. Her first novel, Life Is Funny, won the Teen People Book Club NEXT Award for YA Fiction and was also a top-ten ALA 2001 Quick Pick. In addition to being writer, E.R. Frank is also a clinical social worker and psychotherapist. She works with adults and adolescents and specializes in trauma.
* "An important work that should be an essential part of library collections"
– School Library Journal - Starred Review, March 2015
* "will linger with readers"
– Publisher's Weekly - Starred Review, March 2015
* "gritty, graphic, and shatteringly painful to read...a masterfully told, unforgettable tale of what hope looks like in desperate circumstances, and of the struggle to find power in one’s voice."
– Booklist - Starred Review, April 15, 2015
"Riveting, eye-opening and poignant, Dime is an unnervingly real portrait of life on the streets. It's a world where pimps use charm, cunning and violence to exert gradual - then total - control over vulnerable girls. Until Dime, a girl nearly broken by her situation, somehow finds an exit. If not for herself, at least before it's too late for someone even more defenseless than she is. Unforgettable."