Tourmaline nearly smiled. Who would have thought the ever notorious beauty queen Virginia Campbell was the kind to stick it out? The idea made a tiny knot in her chest, like she had been feeling lonely and hadn’t noticed until someone showed up.
Done Dirt Cheap, by Sarah Nicole Lemon

Tourmaline Harris and Virginia Campbell both just graduated from the same high school. Beyond that, on the surface, they have nothing in common. Tourmaline is still struggling with guilt stemming from the events that resulted in her mother’s incarceration, but her home life is comfortable and safe, her father is supportive, and her future is assured.

Virginia, meanwhile, has a home life that is neither comfortable nor safe, and her future isn’t remotely assured. Up until recently, she was working (and winning) on the pageant circuit, but her “employer” (it’s far more complicated than that) has another girl for that now, and now he wants Virginia to do something entirely different: infiltrate a local biker club in order to gather enough information and evidence to destroy it.

And so Virginia befriends Tourmaline, the daughter of the club president. But somewhere along the way, that friendship becomes something true and real—and the only way they’re going to both live to see their nineteenth birthdays is by standing together.

First things first: while Done Dirt Cheap has been published and marketed as YA, I’d say it’s actually more New Adult or even straight-up adult. Not because of particular content, mind you—‘content’ being code for sex and violence and swearing—but because of the perspective and the way that the girls interact with the world. That said, it’s also a great example of how nebulous and thin the category lines have gotten! If this had been just Tourmaline’s story, I would have zero qualms about slotting it into the YA category—she very definitely has a coming-into-her-own arc—but Virginia, due to her life experience, is actually a much older eighteen than Tourmaline is, and for the most part, is already dealing with the world as an adult. Which is a factor that comes up again and again in the book via plotting and subtext, but also more directly:

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“Virginia’s eighteen is not my eighteen. We aren’t friends because we’re the same age or having the same experience. We don’t have anything in common.”
“Why are y’all friends, then?”
They weren’t friends at all, not in the way Tourmaline had always had friends. But she looked up, trying to figure out how to explain. “We’re friends because when girls—women—are alone in this world, they’re easier to pick off.”

It’s a book that deals with how friendships change with age, and how we sometimes grow out of friendships as we grow into ourselves. It’s about a girl whose relationship with her father changes as she becomes a young woman—in large part because he suddenly recognizes that his peers might now view her as a sexual object.

It deals with female sexuality as power, it acknowledges and celebrates female sexual desire, but it also acknowledges the power dynamics that can lead to sexual coercion and assault. And it deals, very much, with the patriarchal culture of brotherhood—and more specifically all-male motorcycle clubs—and how ownership of women ties into that.

It’s frank about the complexity of dealing with law enforcement and shows how and why a person might be less-than-willing to ask for help or call 911. It talks about being black in a predominately white region and engages with how a region’s history informs its present. It shows how situations can spiral, and it shows how protecting children by withholding information can backfire. It deals with the long term effects of abuse, and it shows the ripple effect of addiction. It’s about loyalty and trust, bravery and rage—and by the time Virginia allows her fury to come screaming free, believe me, you will be right there with her.

Thrills, chills, a whole lot to discuss and argue about and unpack, and HOO BOY, SO MANY EMOTIONS. Come and find me on Twitter if you’ve already read it, because MEATY CONVERSATIONS ARE NEEDED. I’ll leave you with this, the moment that would have led these girls to swagger right into my heart—if they hadn’t been there already:

“Well, then.” Virginia pulled her keys out. “If there’s no trouble for us here, let’s go find trouble elsewhere.”

In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom and The Backlist, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.