Julie Cantrell didn’t want to write about human trafficking, especially of girls not far from her daughter’s age. She said she fought the urge.
The urge won.
“The Feathered Bone” is the third novel for the former Walker resident and New York Times best-selling author, and a big part of the plot is the abduction of a 12-year-old girl, who is forced into prostitution. When she began her two-year writing process, Cantrell wondered if the trafficking might be a media flavor of the month rather than a significant problem.
But joining her mother, Cindy Perkins, in volunteer work at the Livingston Parish-based Hope House program for trafficking victims helped convince Cantrell otherwise. Louisiana had 75 cases of human trafficking reported in 2015, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
“For me, as long as it stayed as numbers and statistics, it was too removed from my reality and my daily life … to have the awareness that I needed to have,” Cantrell said. “And that’s what I want readers to realize. As long as we look at statistics, we can deny that it’s actually happening in our backyards and our communities and schools and businesses and churches.
“But once we open our eyes and realize that these are people’s daughters, sisters, cousins, even sons, and the men that are paying for these services are real people that we know and live with sometimes, we’ve got to be aware of what’s really happening. So, once I accepted that reality, I couldn’t avoid the truth of it anymore.”
That is not the only change of direction for Cantrell, whose previous Christian fiction — the highly successful “Into the Free” and its sequel, “When Mountains Move” — are set in the mid-20th century. Cantrell sets much of “The Feathered Bone” from 2004 to 2009 in Livingston Parish, where she lived from kindergarten through high school before getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees at LSU. She has spent the past 11 years in Oxford, Mississippi, with her husband and two children.
Her familiarity with the area, and being able to call on old friend and Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard to provide law enforcement details, show in the book. While trafficking is a significant part of the book, the victim is not the primary character. That role belongs to the mother of the victim’s best friend, and how the abduction creates a ripple effect on her as a mother, wife and professional.
“I write about women’s journeys, and I try to write in a way that draws the readers through even the darkest part of someone’s human journey,” Cantrell said. “I don’t know anybody who has a perfect life, and I don’t know anybody who hasn’t been hurt tremendously and traumatically in some way, some people much more so than others.
“But we all have our lessons to learn, so what I try to do is bring readers through someone else’s journey so that we can go through all of the same emotions and come out at the end stronger and having learned these lessons whether we’ve lived that journey or not,” she said. “And I hope that gives people who have lived that journey the tools to survive it with their hearts intact, and I hope it gives the people who haven’t made that same walk the empathy and compassion to care about others without judging them without having walked that path.”