The Chinese Chest: YA Suspense w/o the Usual YA Garbage

Is it possible to write a young adult suspense/horror novel on the theme of human trafficking, without ever resorting to vulgarity, wallowing in morbid violence, or even so much as mentioning sex?  Why yes, it is.

Last spring at the SC Book Festival, a local romance novelist waved me into her booth, and tried to sell me on her latest book.  Not my genre, but I played along.  “If this were a movie, what would it be rated?” I asked.

She gave me the naughty-and-proud-of-it smile and declared, “X!”

No thanks.  I kept walking.

At the next booth I met Theresa Jenner Garrido.  She was promoting her favorite of her novels, The Chinese Chest, and I put the same question to her.  She hesitated. “Well, it does have a theme of  human trafficking . . .” She wasn’t quite getting my question. I told her what had happened at the previous booth.  She lit up.  “Oh! No.  Nothing like that.  Absolutely not.  I’m a retired middle school teacher, and I got into writing fiction because I was sick of the trash they were pushing on the kids.”

I gambled on a copy, and it paid off.

What you get: Lisa the babysitter takes a job with the creepy strangers on the edge of town.  The kid is weird.  There’s a room you’re not supposed to go into.  True to genre, you want to shout “No! Don’t go in there!” at every turn.  The suspense keeps ramping, the bad guys turn out to be very, very bad.  Themes of murder, kidnapping, human trafficking.  Sexual exploitation is alluded to, but with deft discretion — not a single explicit mention.

The prose is quick and clean — in all very well told.  (I did find the denouement a little clunky, but I can see why she staged it as she did.) It’s written for an easy adaptation to film — small cast, limited sets, and the script just hangs off the page.  I’d love to see this picked up and turned into a movie, even though I’d be too scared to watch it. If you’re a wimp like me, you may need to skim a few of the creepiest paragraphs.

Why you should read this with your daughter: Because kids don’t know what “Be careful!” means unless you teach them.  At every turn, Lisa ignores the red flags going off in her head — just as people tend to do in real life.  There are classic warning signs of sexual predators and other criminal types, missed opportunities to get help before things escalate, and the internal pressure to take a calculated risk because the deal is just too good.  At the climax, Lisa does what needs to be done, and does it brilliantly (with a few more No! No! moments tossed in to keep things moving).

Bonus: Lisa’s friends and family are pulled together decent people with no bizarre obsessions or dysfunctions.  The boyfriend is the kinda guy you want your daughter to date.  Lisa even mostly does her homework on time. Score.

Great story.  Well worth the investment.

About Jennifer Fitz

Jennifer Fitz is the author of Classroom Management for Catechists, and vice president of the Catholic Writers Guild. In addition to her pile of Catholic writing for Patheos, you can find her at CatholicMom.com, New Evangelizers, and Amazing Catechists. When she isn't blogging, teaching, or complaining about something, she likes to play outside.


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