Muriel Avenue Sluts by Maggie Hasbrouck
The Two Sentence Description: Julia grew up on Muriel Avenue—the women-owned, women-run street of houses inhabited by an exclusive set of “sluts” (who are, more accurately, well-paid escorts with uncommon agency over their professional sex worker lives). When she learns that her best friend (also the daughter of a slut) was raped by one of her mother’s Johns, she plays a dangerous game of revenge that sets her on a course toward a double life that creates tension among her normal teenage things—her post-college plans, the crush she has another girl, and her sweet, stable boyfriend.
Genre: Young Adult
Primary Tropes: Coming of Age, Bi-Curious/Gay for You, Vigilante Justice
Secondary Tropes: Dating and Sex, Forbidden Love
What Makes It Stand Out: The driving plot element of the book is Julia’s outrage over her best friend’s rape and I felt that this book did a tremendous job of dealing with the rape issue in an uncommon way. Julia herself was not the victim, but her outraged reaction and her compulsion to seek retribution were fitting. I find that so many other rape stories are about outing the rapist and seeing him punished through the system of law. But, we (and Julia) know that the legal system often fails victims, and the reader cheers her approach—to seek the only kind of justice she feels she can guarantee—vigilante justice that she executes herself.
What You’ll Love About It: By delving into the taboo subject of sex work and flipping it on its head by showing a non-exploitative sex operation, the reader feels as if she is being shown a secret world. The blurred lines between the taboo world and the world most of us know are interesting and ring true. Julia goes to high school with the children of men who keep company with the women on Muriel Avenue and the contrast between the kind of wisdom she has, from being exposed to an element of human nature that few teenagers are, skillfully juxtaposes the fact that she’s still just a teenager figuring teenage stuff out. A key character—another teenager who leads her more deeply, and is complicit to, her revenge fantasy—paints an accurate picture of modern high school bullying.
Truisms, Complexities, and Other Themes: “Muriel Avenue Sluts” not only deals with serious themes head-on—it takes a more balanced and level-headed view of those themes, rather than a caricaturized one. I love that this book deals with sex work that is structured as a women-owned cooperative, one in which consent is not dubious, and that acknowledges that sex work can be a viable profession with its own underappreciated honor. Indeed, there have been women-owned, sex trade enterprises since the beginning of time and there is value in portrayals of sex work that destigmatize this.
The Standout Side Character: One of the “sluts” who is a sex worker on Muriel Avenue is new to the co-op and captures Jules’ attention in a less than innocent way. The coming of age theme is amplified through this character, who causes Jules to think harder about her sexual orientation and her attraction to this woman who is not traditional in terms of her reaction to Jules’ obvious interest.
Our Prediction: I don’t know where this author is headed in terms of genres and tropes, but her writing is strong and I would read her again, regardless of genre.