The outline of a person grew as someone walked forward. Had the security guard followed me? I pressed myself into the corner. Only one exit. What had I been thinking? Fear was cracking me open. I clutched my backpack in front of me like a shield. “Who are you? Get away or I’ll scream.”
“It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.” A woman’s voice. “I’m here to help if you need it.”
“No. Go away.” I shook my head.
The person held out something small.
I stared it for half a minute. Snatched it. Turned so I could read the card in the headlights but still keep an eye on the woman. She was middle-aged, dressed in jeans and a dark jacked.
The card red:
Street Youth Network
“What is this?” I flicked the card back at her. It floated to the ground.
“Just what it says. We look for street involved teens and offer them shelter. We help them find work or go to school. Whatever they need to get back on their feet.”
“I’m not homeless.”
The woman was silent for a long moment. “You were sleeping in a bus shelter.”
“That’s just-“ I bit off the word temporary. I realized that this network place might be the answer until Dad cooled off. Somewhere to stay for a few days. I could go to school as if everything was fine. No looks of sympathy from the teachers. No sneers from students.
I crouched and picked up the business card. “Maybe I could use a bit of help. For a few days.”
In Blood Donor, readers meet Jo, a teenage girl just counting the days until she turns 18 (87, to be exact) so she can get out of the house controlled by her abusive father. This night, Jo is home one minute past curfew, and her father will not let her in the house – she can’t come home until he goes back to work, which isn’t for a few days. Without close friends to stay with, and with an aggressive aversion to the involvement of a social worker which is never fully explored, Jo ends up choosing to sleep in a bus shelter, just until it’s time for her to go to school in the morning. This doesn’t work out, though, as she’s woken up by Mandy, a worker from the Street Youth Network (SYN), a private organization that promises to help homeless youth with school, jobs, and housing without the involvement of social services. Jo is initially reluctant, but where else can she go? It turns out, however, that Mandy and SYN are too good to be true. Jo has been kidnapped by a group of criminals who run a high-end anti-aging spa where the secret to successful treatment is using the blood of young people – in this case homeless youth kidnapped using SYN as a ruse, just as Jo experienced.
Some of the other teen girls Jo meets are happy to be held captive – they have a warm place to sleep, are kept fed, and, in exchange, all they have to do is have their blood drawn every two weeks. Jo and her new friend Thorn, on the other hand, are desperate to escape what they determine to be the fortified basement of a renovated mansion on the edge of town. Banking on the police being more involved in solving the disappearance of Jo than the other captives, who were all unhoused when they were kidnapped, and an escape plan that takes shape when Jo begins to communicate with the group of teenage boys being held captive in a separate section of the basement from the girls, Jo and Thorn are determined to ensure that all the kidnapped teens are rescued and re-united with their families and friends.
Blood Donor is a quick read with an engaging, fast-paced plot. As an “Orca Soundings” publication, this title is meant to be a high-interest novel aimed at striving readers, and it excels in all aspects of this goal. With a strong focus on the main plot and a solid, unambiguous ending, this title is an excellent choice for striving readers, especially those interested in thrillers or mysteries. As is also common in this format, though, more complex issues are sometimes dealt with either superficially or not at all. Jo’s reluctance to connect with a social worker, for example, is never explained or examined, and for youth who are either already or will potentially be involved with child protection services, this narrative could be upsetting or contribute to mistrust of the system. While this isn’t a significant problem for the book, itself, it is important to note that this aspect of the book may make it less suitable for some youth to engage with. For most readers, however, Blood Donor should hit the spot as a thrilling page-turner.
Susie Wilson is the Data Services Librarian at the University of Northern British Columbia, where she supports all aspects of data use in the academic setting. She currently resides in Prince George, British Columbia.