YA Diversity Book Club: Discussion about Fifteen Lanes

YA Diversity Book Club
Welcome to the April edition of the YA Diversity Book Club, a monthly feature we feature in partnership with Lucy at The Reading Date and Kristan at We Heart YA. This month we read S.J. Laid law’s contemporary drama about two girls in Mumbai: one a privileged white daughter of a Canadian executive and another the daughter of a sex worker. Lucy’s offering a copy of the book to anyone who wants to read it. Be warned — you might want to take breaks, because it’s intense!

Interested in the book? Make sure to read We Heart YA’s Q&A with the author S.J. Laidlaw and The Reading Date’s feature post “Human Trafficking: Further Reading & Giveaway.”

Fifteen Lanes


Tundra Books: 240 pages | Buy it on Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Noor has lived all of her fourteen years in the fifteen lanes of Mumbai’s red light district. Born into a brothel, she is destined for the same fate as her mother: a desperate life trapped in the city’s sex trade. She must act soon to have any chance of escaping this grim future.

Across the sprawling city, fifteen-year-old Grace enjoys a life of privilege. Her father, the CEO of one of India’s largest international banks, has brought his family to Mumbai where they live in unparalleled luxury. But Grace’s seemingly perfect life is shattered when she becomes a victim of a cruel online attack.

When their paths intersect, Noor and Grace will be changed forever. Can two girls living in vastly different worlds find a common path?

Award-winning author S.J. Laidlaw masterfully weaves together their stories in a way that resonates across class and culture. Fifteen Lanes boldly explores the ties that bind us to places and people, and shows us that the strongest of bonds can be forged when hope is all but lost.

–What were your first impressions of Fifteen Lanes?

The Reading Date: Riveting, intense, eye-opening. I enjoyed reading it but had to keep taking breaks to digest it all!

We Heart YA: LOL unfortunately I started the book fairly late in the month, so I didn’t have the luxury of time to take breaks, even though I definitely could have used them! Yes, the story was intense, and moving.

Teen Lit Rocks: It was incredibly intense because I basically read it without any breaks. So poignant and heartbreaking and different than anything else I’ve read.

–What first appealed to you about the story — the setting, survival story, the friendships, the dual pov? And how did the story line up with expectations?

The Reading Date: All of it appealed to me since this story is so different than anything we have talked about before. The setting, and the human trafficking focus caught my attention. The story is so rich and well-researched and exceeded my expectations.

We Heart YA: I agree completely. This kind of story, while heavy, is totally in line with my interest in women’s experiences around the world.

Teen Lit Rocks: Exactly. It was unlike anything I’ve read in YA in a long time. I did enjoy the dual perspective and how thoroughly researched it seemed.

–This story is told in alternating POV. Grace and Noor both live in Mumbai, but in two different worlds. How are they similar and how are they different? Did you respond to one girl’s story more than the other?

We Heart YA: Well, the early conflicts in Grace’s storyline really took me by surprise. I guess I didn’t expect her to have as much going on, independent of Noor. I think it was a smart storytelling decision, though, because it made her a fuller character, with her own problems and goals.

The Reading Date: The dual pov showed the class differences between Grace and Noor, and Grace’s story helped to give the reader a break from all of Noor’s struggles. Both girls were hurting in their own way but Grace’s problems were trivial compared to Noor. I did find Noor’s story more compelling.

We Heart YA: If you compare them, then yes. But I thought Grace was dealing with some pretty heavy stuff too. (Sexts, bullying, self harm…) Stuff that too many teen girls face, nowadays. :/

Teen Lit Rocks: I agree with both of you. Both POVs are necessary to illustrate just how different these girls’ lives are and how trivial some (real) adolescent problems can seem in comparison to the problems of the world’s most impoverished teens. But that doesn’t mean Grace’s problems weren’t upsetting — just that they still paled in comparison.

We Heart YA: By the way, I want to give Laidlow credit, because often the voices in dual POV stories sound too similar to each other. I thought here, Grace and Noor’s voices were quite distinct.

Teen Lit Rocks: Yes. Sometimes I have to check in multi-POV books to make sure I know whose chapter I’m reading, but that obviously never happened in this book.

–When you met Noor and found out about her living situation, family, and life struggles, what was your reaction / what feelings were inspired?

The Reading Date: Noor’s living conditions were difficult to say the least. I felt for her taking on so much at a young age — raising her siblings and keeping them safe/fed/healthy. Plus, going to school and trying to escape her devadasi fate! I really felt for her and hoped for her to find a way out of her situation.

Teen Lit Rocks: It was incredibly disturbing in those opening scenes to see what is was like for her in a brothel where her mom and “auntie” are so cruelly treated. I was just gutted.

We Heart YA: My heart ached for Noor — and for pretty much everyone in her storyline, frankly — because no one should have to live that way. In fact, what makes me angry in real life is that we actually do have enough global wealth that no one does have to live that way! Yet we still allow such a large gap between the haves and the have nots.

Grace’s life seems like a cakewalk compared to Noor’s struggles, though she was hurting in her own way. Was her life more relatable? Do you think her POV was important to the story?

The Reading Date: I think that Noor’s story was stronger but it was powerful to see Grace and Noor interact and change each other’s lives.

Teen Lit Rocks: I agree that Noor’s story was the more compelling of the two, but I think it’s necessary to see both points of view in order to appreciate and fully emotionally invest.

We Heart YA: Hm. I think Grace and Noor were equally relatable, just in totally different ways. Laidlaw did a great job putting us in each of their shoes. I felt both perspectives were compelling on their own — just more so, intertwined.

What did you think of the character development? Any characters or scenes particularly stand out to you in a good or bad way?

The Reading Date: Grace in particular showed character growth by getting out of her head and doing what she could to help Noor.

We Heart YA: Noor’s mother was fascinating to me. Though she is a harsh and honestly rather broken woman, she also cares deeply for Noor, and even invests and takes pride in Noor’s intelligence. I appreciated her complexity.

Teen Lit Rocks: I thought Noor’s mom was also so fascinating. She can be so cruel, but she clearly wants more for Noor than what she has; I too (as a mother), understand that desire to want more for my kids, even though my life is so much easier than Noor’s mother’s.

We Heart YA: Now that I think about it, other than VJ, the people in Grace’s life were more… familiar, at least to me. Everyone in Noor’s world interested me for different reasons — even the “bad guys,” like Binti-Ma’am and Pran.

–What did you think of the friendships and/or family dynamics in this story?

The Reading Date: I liked VJ’s friendship with Noor and Grace, and Noor’s siblings. Noor’s aunties and her friend Parvati were also notable parts of Noor’s journey.

We Heart YA: VJ took me by surprise. For whatever reason, I wasn’t expecting a character like him in this story. At first I wasn’t sure I’d like him — he’s so over the top! — but soon I realized how good he would be for Grace, and what a unique and valuable perspective he offered (especially when she was feeling so lousy about the scandal at school).

The author has spent years volunteering at NGO’s that work to prevent second generation trafficking in Mumbai and that is partly what inspired Fifteen Lanes. Did this book change your opinion on sex trafficking or inspire you to research the dangers that exist closer to home?

The Reading Date: Yes, the book is obviously well researched and relevant to US readers since sex trafficking is on the rise here as well.

We Heart YA: Well, the trafficking of women and children is a subject I’m fairly interested in and concerned about, so I’ve done some nonfiction reading on it before. For example, HALF THE SKY by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is an excellent, distressing look at the plight of girls in various cultures, including red light districts in SE Asia.

We Heart YA: I’m more partial to fiction, though, because even though it’s not “real,” for me the emotional connection I make with the characters can be extremely powerful. So it was great to “meet” Noor and see the world through her lens. And you could tell Laidlaw was well-versed in this world.

Teen Lit Rocks: It’s not an easy subject to delve into, but I thought Laidlaw’s made me want to learn more about the issue of sex trafficking. I know about it in theory, but it’s different to read about it and confront its evil existence in the world.

–What other books would you recommend readers to seek out if they want to read more about this subject?

We Heart YA: See my answer above, lol! There’s also a documentary version of HALF THE SKY, which is (or at least was) available on Netflix.

The Reading Date: Little Peach by Peggy Kern comes to mind. It’s about a runaway who is lured into child prostitution in New York.

We Heart YA: Yes, I’ve heard good things about that book! Also,THE WALLED CITY by Ryan Graudin features a main character who has been trafficked (in China). And isn’t OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys about young prostitutes in New Orleans? It’s historical, but supposedly very good.

The Reading Date: YALSA wrote a great blog post recently on the subject with more book recs: http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2016/04/18/resources-for-discussing-human-trafficking-with-teens/

Teen Lit Rocks: Not exactly the same sort of trafficking issue, but there are current or former sex workers in OUT OF THE EASY, SIX OF CROWS, THE YOUNG ELITES, and DIME.

–Anything else you’d like to add?

The Reading Date: Fifteen Lanes helped enlighten me on a subject I’m not well-versed in. A powerful, relevant read that I hope gets into readers hands this spring. Looking forward to reading more from S.J. Laidlaw.

We Heart YA: Oh yeah, I think this book could really impact readers, young and old. I could also see it being a great tool in schools. There’s so much cultural learning and social relevance in these girls’ stories.

Teen Lit Rocks: I think this is an unforgettable issue book that helps readers see characters from polar-opposite backgrounds tackling unthinkable issues. I think everyone who reads it will learn something about India, about the sex trafficking, about empathy, and the kinds of friendships that change your life.

 Stay tuned in May when we discuss THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN!

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