by Kia DuPree
Reviewed by: Michelled Bishop
Set in Washington, D.C., Damaged transports us into the life of Camille Logan, a street prostitute who goes by the name Nectar. Damaged is an extended flashback explaining Camille's journey into prostitution starting with her being abandoned by her drug-addicted mother at the age of ten. After Camille's grandmother dies, Camille ends up in a foster family that, on the surface, seems like it “was just like The Cosby Show.” Unfortunately for Camille, the apparent fairy tale turns into the proverbial nightmare of sexual abuse at the hands of her foster father, Mr. Brinkley, and alternately indifference and aggression from her overly religious foster mother.
Camille does find moments of joy when she meets Chu, an aspiring drug dealer who wants to build a life with Camille. When she has one falling out too many with the Brinkleys, Camille moves in with Chu and thinks life is turning up for her. Sadly, her reliance on Chu leaves her vulnerable to his roommate, Nut, after Chu is gunned down in the street. Nut offers the empty promises of saving money for Camille and the other girls who work for him so they can each have their own homes in the suburbs but his unpredictable nature and violence overshadow any protection he offers the girls in his charge.
DuPree tells Camille’s tale engagingly despite the limitations of first-person narrative and the immature voice of a very young character. The flashback technique was clearly unnecessary, as virtually the entire story ends up being told in order to bring the reader up to the point where everything turns out okay. Okay is about all one can say about the ending of the book. It is clear that DuPree has all the best intentions of taking her protagonist out of her incredibly difficult situation but she seems confused about how to bring her character out of her situation in a way that enriches the reader's and Camille's lives.
We all want to see Camille do better; but, Camille's entirely too vague notions about what she wants to do with her life besides hook the reader with a sense that unless someone directs her life, she's a woman-child without a clue. Did DuPree mean to show us that these types of young women, have no idea how to move forward in their lives without a pimp or a John to direct them? If so, she does this admirably. If not, what does she mean to show us?
The other young women who worked for Nut find ways out of his employ; some were forced out by circumstance and others saw their opportunity and took it. Camille doesn't leave on her own volition, however, despite her repeated commentary about wanting to change her life and deserving more out of life. What can we conclude about such a wishy-washy character? We do not see Camille develop so much as listen to her whine about how life isn't fair. The reader's desire to see Camille grow into a strong, self-sufficient young woman is, unfortunately, never met. So we are left with an unsatisfied need at the end.
Naturally, in the fashion of the typical novel there's a sense that Camille will be alright in the end, but that's the problem. We sense she'll only be alright. We get no sense that Camille will grow and thrive and become the woman she always wanted to become, or the woman the reader wants her to become. Camille moves on, not through her own motivation and force, but move on she does and we are relieved for her.
DuPree makes excellent use of the streets to show the weaknesses and vulnerabilities young women have to deal with in certain situations. We will be pleased to see if she can also show how those very situations can strengthen and form an otherwise vulnerable girl into a forceful and determined woman who can save not only herself but also others. Love does prevail in the end to help Camille out of her situation but perhaps the story would have been better served if Camille's self-love helped her overcome.
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