There are some books that make you uncomfortable– and I’ll be doing a second post to follow up this review of S.J. Laidlaw’s Fifteen Lanes with my six sensational uncomfortable books, but in the meantime know that their ability to make readers uncomfortable is exactly the point. I wouldn’t want Laidlaw to paint the picture any other way.
Especially knowing the world that Laidlaw has spent time doing, her portrait of two girls’ situational differences and delicate similarities bring them together, however cliched this union technically is. Noor is the daughter of a prostitute, living in the brothel alongside her auntie’s and younger siblings, terrorized daily by the madam’s henchman, her own mother, and sometimes the men who frequent the establishment. Yet it’s the birth of the youngest, Shami, that heralds in Noor’s need for an education and a way out. Shami is born sick and then determined to be HIV positive with the frequent visits to different clinics to maximize the little money they have and the kindness of the clinical staff. It’s also Noor’s understanding that she will follow in her mother’s footsteps as she comes of age because of a centuries-old religious doctrine promising sexual gratification to the then-priests now distorted to allow men to degrade them while in service to madam’s keeping them in perpetual servitude. Cutting the darkness of Noor’s life is Grace’s privileged life in India where her lack of friends leads her to send a topless picture of herself that is then disseminated to the student body.
Memorable character: She appears at the beginning and end of the story and with an ability to be “free” through suicide, Lali-did takes the police raid as the opportunity to end her life rather than continue her existence or try to move forward. This character showcases the desperate life and precarious situation that these women lead.
Memorable scene: One of the drawbacks of the book is that both characters and the secondary characters all have multiple issues that detract from the main stories of both girls. But one of Grace’s reactions to her loneliness and humiliation at school is that she begins to cut into her thighs to release some of the pain. The first time readers realize exactly what she is doing is shocking and realistic even after Grace has admitted she is unsure exactly why she does this as she hasn’t had a history of this behavior before.
Both girls are suffering and perhaps, as mentioned above, it is made more realistic knowing what we see in the papers around sexting, bullying, and sexual slavery. This is all too real and not just in faraway places. Then, knowing that Laidlaw has been a part of the healing lets readers know how vital telling these stories are. So, the memorable quote is actually one from Laidlaw herself in the author’s note.
Memorable quote: “I still have no illusions that I’ve transformed their lives, but I have no doubt they’ve changed mine”.
My advice is that this is a necessary purchase for a high school/YA collection though not every reader will be able to read this alone. As an adult, I paused and walked away before returning. Laidlaw’s matter-of-fact descriptions lay bare the atrocities of sexual slavery and brutality that exist and how much work needs to be done still to save these woman and children.