A feature of young adult literature that I stress to my students is that it can be a mirror, reflecting their own lives, or a window, allowing them to see into someone else’s. The situation that underscores “Charm” is one that far too many adolescents may be familiar with. In this short story, we see thematic ideas on abuse and drug use.
With a rise in cyberbullying, there is also a rise in child pornography, though actually created at the hands of the children. To that end, adolescents will be able to identify with the protagonist and her friend, in light of the naked pictures taken of two young girls shackled together. I have heard of girls who take naked pictures of themselves with their cell phones and forward them to other people. While the story doesn’t suggest direct repercussions for those actions, the reader is presented with a world in which the protagonist is disconsolate and removed from herself.
We also get a sense that the protagonist is sexually abused, whether it be while she is high, in trade for drugs, or in a situation she cannot remove herself from. The familiarity with this scene can not only be with the rape, but also with the sense of powerlessness and dissociation that many victims experience during a trauma.
While opium isn’t a drug that many are familiar with anymore—I associate it with authors like Samuel Taylor Coleridge—a clear picture is drawn for the reader that Rev is on drugs. The way the narrator describes Rev’s addiction can be familiar to students, how the drugs feel like “ecstasy of pure honeyed delight in her veins, like being infused with the soul she had lost” (Block, 2000, 73). With the climate on the border the way it is right now, if nothing else, this image serves as a window into the world of someone the reader is close to or has heard about. The detox scene is similarly vivid, though done differently than scenes in novels like Go Ask Alice (Anonymous, 1971). The drug line of thematic idea resolves quasi-happily, with the realization that the drug is no longer necessary.
Anonymous. (1971). Go Ask Alice. New York: Simon Pulse.
Block, F. (2000). The Rose and the Beast. New York: Joanna Cotler Books.