Craved, by Lola Smirnova

Inspired by real life events, Craved is a brutally candid look at making a living in the sex trade. Having been to hell and back, three sisters from Ukraine – Natalia, Lena and Julia – decide to retire from selling sex and walk the straight and narrow path back home. However, an old friend convinces them they can make ‘buckets’ of east money in South Africa and they can’t turn the offer down. The trio return to the night life of the entertainment business with all the familiar temptations – drugs, alcohol and prostitution.

Firstly, this book is definitely for adults only. But don’t think of it as a wannabe 50 Shades of Grey or deserving of a ‘trashy’ read title. It is bleak, dark and terribly depressing. Told through the eyes of Julia, it details her battle with the bottle, the long lasting effects of rape and her time working the floor at a strip club.

Part of a trilogy, Craved stands on its own. While not as graphic or disturbing as the first book Twisted, it is still fairly intense. Smirnova doesn’t pull any punches and at times it is hard to read because it is so gritty and raw. Smirnova is a masterful storyteller who knows how to take readers on a real journey.

She offers a new perspective and level of understanding of the minds of young women who are lured into the sex trade. The characters, despite being far removed from most reader’s reality, are relatable and the family dynamics between the sisters are spot on. However, she manages to keep an essence of hope alive in the characters throughout the story, despite all that they go through. The cliffhanger ending is brutally depressing. It smacks you in the face and leaves you stunned for a few days.

Craved is a heart-wrenching read that will captivate readers. It will shock and delight you, with both the storyline and the literary value.

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Rebekah is an Otago-based mother of two young girls. The former journalist and primary school teacher has a soft spot for New Zealand authors and young adult fiction. Follow her on Twitter.

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