City of Angels by Kristi Belcamino
Set in the summer of 1992, just a few short months before the Rodney King verdict and LA Riots, in the seedy underbelly of LA’s streets, City of Angels paints a not so pretty picture of the town where dreams are made. Nikki, a runaway from Chicago at age seventeen, is quickly learning that picking up a guy at the bus station probably wasn’t the best idea she’s had. But, she followed Chad to LA and finds herself in the middle of some serious trouble. The kind that can get you killed- or worse. She’s in the home of a big shot Hollywood director who wants her to be the star in a film. Against her will. Without any clothes. She escapes the director and her boyfriend but finds an even younger runaway, twelve-year-old Rain, being held captive at the same house. The two hitchhike a ride into LA. She has nowhere to go but ends up at a bar where a band she knows from Chicago is playing, but they’ve left before she gets there. Rain has other plans and ditches, Nikki. After chatting up the bartender, she’s able to find residence at the American Hotel which sits atop the bar. The rent is cheap, and someone knows of a job she might get. Nikki fits in well with the eclectic group of musicians, waitresses, poets, and students but keeps to herself. She can’t stop thinking about that girl and makes it her mission to find her. On her day off, Nikki walks around LA, taking pictures when she spots her and brings her back to her hotel. Protecting Rain helps quiet some of the demons she left behind in Chicago, but Nikki is in way over her head, especially since Rain is addicted to heroin. Nikki is no stranger to seeing what drugs can do to a person and is one of the main reasons she’s not in Chicago. A mysterious black car is following Rain, but she won’t tell who is in it until the day she is taken. No one believes that Rain was screaming and fighting the man in the black car, chalking it up her being a drug addict, so Nikki takes on the task of finding her alone. She's not prepared for a fight against crooked cops, a cult disguised as a church, the wealthy and powerful, and the pornography industry. While this industry is a huge part of the story, nothing is ever written in detail or does anything (quite the opposite, actually) to glorify it. I was a little hesitant with this storyline as it’s a pretty heavy and taboo subject for YA but after finishing and seeing how it was handled, I felt much better. Sadly, the Rodney King verdict and ensuing LA Riots were a mere backdrop of the story. This could have been an excellent way to introduce students to some of the social justice issues that happened before they were born and now mirrored in our lives. Rife with strong characters that aren’t afraid of a fight, this is a quick, suspenseful mystery that will make you look at LA in a whole new way.