In Chris Bohjalian’s The Guest Room, we meet several characters whose lives are turned upside down by one ill-fated bachelor party. Two men wind up dead in a suburban home’s living room, two women are on the run from the police, and the party’s attendees are left to handle the fallout. In the face of such turmoil, each character shows his or her true colors, but there is one voice that stands out from the rest.
Alexandra is a young Armenian girl with dreams of becoming a world-renowned ballet dancer. Orphaned at a young age, Alexandra has few people in her life to look out for her. When a powerful oligarch appears to take an interest in her talent, she jumps at the opportunity to make her dream a reality. Little does she know that his attention will bring about an end to her life as she knows it. She explains:
When my mother died, he was there for me. In the long run, of course, this would be earthquake-level bad. Life-changing bad.
But those first days and then first weeks after my mother died? I felt safe. I felt like princess. I felt that in the end—no matter what—everything would be okay. (p. 30)
Although she is a fictional character, Alexandra represents the millions of children who continue to fall victim to human trafficking. According to UNICEF, “nearly 2 million children are used in the commercial sex trade, where they routinely face sexual and physical violence.” The International Labour Office revealed that the overwhelming majority of those forced into commercial sexual exploitation are women and girls (98 percent). Like Alexandra, many of these children are those without parental care—orphans and other young girls and boys who do not have the benefit of a protective and loving family environment. Their vulnerability provides the perfect opportunity for traffickers to exploit them. In The Guest Room, Alexandra’s isolation and her burning desire to become a ballerina make her the ideal target, and through her eyes we are granted a well-researched, if fictional, account of what life is like for the victims of sex trafficking.
As Chris Bohjalian revealed in an interview with Hypertext Magazine, “Sex slaves in this world rarely have a voice; they are afraid to speak. So, I made one decision right away: the character who is the sex slave would be the only first-person voice in the novel.” By blending fact and fiction, Bohjalian has managed to give a voice to the millions of children who have none, bringing just a few of them to life in the pages of The Guest Room.