The Color of Rain, by Cori McCarthy (Running Press, May 2013) -- human trafficking in space.
Rain, born into a future, hardscrabble, impoverished, violent earth. has only her brother left, and her brother is leaving her. He has developed the same mental sickness that took Rain's mother, a sickness whose victims are taken by the enforcers, and who then disappear forever. Rain can't stand to loose her little brother too...and dreams of taking him to the far reaches of space, where miracles of science and technology might save him.
To get off planet, Rain makes a bargain with Johnny, a handsome space ship captain--she'll trade him her body for passage for herself and her brother. But when it is too late to escape, Rain realizes that she has trapped herself in hell. She is now just one of the many girls being prostituted by the captain to his passengers and to the crew...and though Johnny wants her for himself, he is a sadistic monster who wants to break her, and this includes pimping her out to other men. And as the ship travels through space, Rain learns it has other dark secrets...her life, and the lives of the other girls, are not the only ones at risk.
Hope comes from another of Johnny's prisoners, Ben, a young man from the scientifically advanced culture Rain hopes can help her brother. Rain and Ben form an almost inevitable attraction--but, as it to be expected under the circumstances, their growing feelings for each other are oppressed by the horror of lives controlled by the monstrous Johnny. There is still hope, however--still room for acts of rebellion on board the spacecraft, still hope that Ben's people will rescue them, and still, in Rain's heart, hope for her brother, whose frozen body lies down in the hold, and, though it flickers, hope that she can cling to herself, and not become just a body to be used.
It's a very edgy premise, and McCarthy does a fine job showing it as such without falling into prurient voyeurism. And it's a page-turner, although I must confess that, for me at least, the pages turned quickly because I didn't want to linger on scenes of violence and forced sex, and I wanted to read what I wasn't reading--I wanted Rain to get out! Of course, the fact that she can't is the point of the story-- her journey is a psychological struggle to keep her humanity, to forgive her body to reacting with physical pleasure to sex with Johnny, to balance personal survival with the lives of others...and to keep physically healing from the violence inflicted on her.
The relationship between Ben and Rain was rather a change from your standard YA fare--neither can save the other, and neither has the emotional energy to understand the other and help each other heal (healing isn't an option yet, of course, because new hurts--what they are made to do to others, what is done to them-- are a constant in their lives). Their love for each other is forced into a more happy and hopeful ending than is perhaps believable, but it did make for an upbeat ending...
So it's not a book I enjoyed, exactly, but it was very vivid and tremendously gripping in a rather bleak way.
Here's another review at Finding Wonderland, and another at Write All the Words
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher