A thriller finds a trio of African-American sisters lost in Georgia’s questionable foster-care system.
In Manchester, Georgia, Carolyn Stokes supports her three young daughters by cashiering in a grocery store and dancing in a strip club. Her husband, Marshall, died in Afghanistan six years ago. One day, Carolyn returns home to find her youngest daughter, 6-year-old Ruth, playing outside in the rain. She scolds 10-year-old Danielle and 12-year-old Emily for allowing the tiny girl to catch a cold and plans to take everyone to the doctor. When a ruffian from the strip club comes to collect Carolyn for work, she rebuffs him and proceeds across town with her children. During the rain-slick journey, an aggressive Hummer runs the family’s vehicle off the road. Carolyn ends up in a coma, and the girls go to the Department of Family and Child Services. The office manager, Mrs. Bertram, doesn’t believe them when they say that their grandparents live in southern Georgia and quickly places them with Mr. and Mrs. Nateba. Meanwhile, Pvt. Rudy Bazemore visits Mr. and Mrs. Stokes, the parents of his deceased military colleague. He convinces Marshall’s mother to forgive Carolyn, whom she hasn’t spoken to since her son’s death, and attempt to see her grandchildren. In his graphic domestic thriller, Hayes (Dial Tone Dragnet, 2001) strives to illuminate the dangerous flaws in Georgia’s foster-care system. Readers will follow the Stokes girls as they are sold by Mrs. Bertram into illegal bondage to the Natebas. The Nigerian couple’s superficially warm home is where they hold young people in a basement dungeon and train them as sex slaves. While Hayes avoids any grotesque sexual depictions, the Natebas commit plenty of physical violence against the children, making this a harrowing read. The author’s characters are memorable, including Rudy, who has artificial legs, and Emily, who’s intelligent beyond her years. Hayes’ prose, though, frequently calls for editing, like in the line “She listened carefully for any, tall-tale sounds of danger.”
A potent, if flawed, novel that combats racism and child endangerment.