If you’re not already familiar with the real-world issues of sex trafficking in the United States, you will certainly understand it a lot more after reading this book. “thedeadgirlinthevacantlot” takes place in Phoenix, Arizona – where I just so happen to live. In fact, the places referenced in this story are mere streets away from where I work every day. Personally, I am educated on this subject, and therefore, was not surprised by the information. But that doesn’t make it any less heart wrenching to read about. Jana writes this story in a delicate way that makes it engaging to read, but also smacks you with reality. She took lots of care to write about these under age girls in a way that any reader can understand the hardship from their perspective, while also not betraying the gruesome nature of child sex trafficking.
A disturbing read for sure, but one that is needed in our world. We need to be reminded that these things are happening around us every day and if we pay a little closer attention, we might notice some of those signs that just don’t fit. Young girls, children, dressed in scantily clad clothes while chaperoned by grown men. We need to be watching for these things and asking ourselves if it looks suspicious. If so, call someone to report it and let them look into it. Don’t ever try to handle a situation on your own. I have a lot of respect for this book and the courage that Jana had to write about this topic. Please check out her work and read it for yourself.
Jana Bommersbach is one of Arizona’s most acclaimed journalists and authors. She’s already been honored with two lifetime achievement awards as “an inspiration to the state’s media community.” She’s been inducted into the Arizona Arts and Entertainment Hall of Fame, and honored by the ACLU as a “journalist and activist who speaks truth to power.” She’s won a regional Emmy for her television work and was named the nation’s best columnist in a city magazine for her work at Phoenix magazine. She twice won the Don Bolles Award in Investigative Reporting for her work at Phoenix New Times.
Jana is known as a tenacious researcher and lyrical writer. Her debut non-fiction book, “The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd” was nominated for the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award as one of the nation’s best mysteries in 1992. Her children’s book, “A Squirrel’s Story, a True Tale” won numerous awards here and abroad. Her first historical novel, “Cattle Kate,” was named one of the best books of 2014 by Publisher’s Weekly. With “thedeadgirlinthevacantlot,” Jana continues exploring the world of fiction with her character, Phoenix investigative reporter Joya Bonner.
To satisfy her journalistic soul, Jana combines a fictional story with real-life incidents she’s covered in the past. In her first Joya Bonner book, “Funeral Hotdish,” it was the problem of Sammy “the Bull” Gravano and his Arizona ecstasy ring and how it affected Joya’s safe, secure hometown in North Dakota that buried one of its children from a drug overdose. In this new book, Joya takes on the world of sex-trafficking. As the book was going to press, federal officials shut down the “online brothel” known as Backpage.com and its founders—Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin—were arrested and are awaiting trial on multiple counts of facilitating sex-trafficking.
This is a particularly poignant story for Jana to write, for a dozen years before Backpage was created, she was partners with Mike and Jim in owning Phoenix New Times. She left and sold her interest to pursue other journalistic options. As she says in the Epilogue, “I write this book with a broken heart.”