4.5 464
by Ellen Hopkins

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“When all choice is taken from you, life becomes a game of survival.” Five teenagers from different parts of the country. Three girls. Two guys. Four straight. One gay. Some rich. Some poor. Some from great families. Some with no one at all. All living their lives as best they can, but all searching . . . for freedom, safety, community, family, love.

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“When all choice is taken from you, life becomes a game of survival.” Five teenagers from different parts of the country. Three girls. Two guys. Four straight. One gay. Some rich. Some poor. Some from great families. Some with no one at all. All living their lives as best they can, but all searching . . . for freedom, safety, community, family, love. What they don’t expect, though, is all that can happen when those powerful little words, “I love you,” are said for all the wrong reasons. These are five moving stories that remain separate at first, then weave together to tell a larger, more powerful story–a story about making choices, taking leaps of faith, falling down, and growing up. And figuring out what sex and love are all about. TRICKS is informed and inspired by living near Las Vegas–a big teen prostitution scene–and by the fact that teen prostitution is not exclusively the result of kids running away from abuse. Kids from “better” families are selling themselves for hefty sums in order to finance addictions or even just to buy jewelry or clothing. In some cases, parents prostitute their children for the same reason. So what happens to the kids who are asking themselves, and asking us, “Can I ever feel OK about myself?” Highly charged, TRICKS is a gripping experience that turns you on and repels you at the same time.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hopkins again tackles a serious societal problem, this time focusing on teen prostitution. Fans of her work will recognize both her signature free verses and the gritty details she weaves within them. Newcomers, however, may be shocked by the graphic depictions of five struggling teens who find themselves turning tricks (one realizes her mother has sold her “for a good time” with a stranger, while another recounts “pretending to enjoy... deviant sex” to earn the trust of a guard at an ultra-strict religious rehabilitation camp). Some plotting seems clichéd, such as the story of a preacher's daughter from Idaho, whose mother banishes her to the Tears of Zion camp after catching her with her boyfriend. While each story unfolds slowly, readers will understand the protagonists' desperation as well as their complete powerlessness once their descents have begun. Each story is unique (one teen needs money, another was thrown out because of his sexuality, still another was simply looking for love from the wrong person); while readers may connect with some characters more than others, they will long remember each painful story. Ages 14–up. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Annie Laura Smith
Five teens, three girls and two guys from quite different backgrounds face making choices and taking leaps of faith while they try to come to terms with their respective situations. As these young people fall into prostitution, they struggle with lack of self-esteem because of their failures and try to survive. This novel is written in verse and explores family and emotional problems and prostitution. It is a difficult read at times as it reflects some of life's heart-wrenching difficulties. Each teen is searching for love and a sense of belonging. Eden, Seth, Whitney, Ginger and Cody do what each one feels they must to survive. The stories of theses strangers are interwoven to tell the overall story of their plight. The author, Ellen Hopkins, has been heralded as "the bestselling living poet in the country" by It is this extraordinary poetry talent that brings this story to life and allows the reader to empathize with their heartbreaking situations. In her author's note, she explains that she wrote the books based on a statistic: the average age of a female prostitute is the United States is 12-years-old. Her story explains some of the reasons that might drive a young adult into prostitution and how they maintain their will to survive. She provides the hotline number for Children of the Night: 1-800-551-1300. This is an organization which provides resources to escape a life of prostitution. Reviewer: Annie Laura Smith
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Five teens desperately seek to find their way through the darkness in Hopkins's latest epic novel in verse. Eden flees an evangelical household; Cody blocks out a family illness with gambling and sex; Whitney gives up her body in exchange for the love she finds so elusive; Seth struggles to define himself as a homosexual; and Ginger comes to terms with an awful truth about her neglectful mother. Burden after burden piles on the teens' shoulders until they resort to the unthinkable in order to survive. As they near rock bottom, their narratives begin to intersect. It is only when their paths converge that a glimmer of redemption appears out of the hopelessness. From the punch delivered by the title, to the teens' raw voices, to the visual impact of the free verse, Hopkins once again produces a graphic, intense tale that will speak to mature teens.—Jill Heritage Maza, Greenwich High School, CT
Kirkus Reviews
Hopkins sharply portrays extreme adolescent turbulence with her biggest cast yet, as five disparate, desperate teens are sucked into the Las Vegas world of selling sex. Indiana farm boy Seth is kicked off his family's farm for being gay; optionless, he follows a controlling sugar daddy to Vegas. In Boise, Eden's first romantic relationship spurs her "hellfire-and-brimstone-preaching" Pentecostal parents to declare, "You are obviously possessed by demons," and send her to Tears of Zion reform camp, where unwilling sex is her only hope for escape. In California, Whitney craves male attention, while Ginger realizes that the rapes she's endured throughout childhood were orchestrated by her mother for cash. Cody's in Vegas, already drugging and gambling but crushed when his stepfather dies. All five are "spinning. Spiraling. Clinging to / the eye of the tornado." Hopkins's pithy free verse reveals shards of emotion and quick glimpses of physical detail. It doesn't matter that the first-person voices blur, because the stories are distinct and unmistakable. Graphic sex, rape, drugs, bitter loneliness, despair-and eventually, blessedly, glimmers of hope. (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Margaret K. McElderry Books
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Sales rank:
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3 MB
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

A Poem by Eden Streit
Eyes Tell Stories

But do they know how to craft fiction? Do they know how to spin


His eyes swear forever,
flatter with vows of only me. But are they empty


I stare into his eyes, as into a crystal ball, but I cannot find forever,


movies of yesterday,
a sketchbook of today,
dreams of a shared


His eyes whisper secrets.
But are they truths or fairy tales?
I wonder if even he


Some People

Never find the right kind of love.
You know, the kind that steals

your breath away, like diving into snowmelt.
The kind that jolts your heart,

sets it beating apace, an anxious hiccuping of hummingbird wings.

The kind that makes every terrible minute apart feel like hours. Days.

Some people flit from one possibility to the next, never experiencing the incredible

connection of two people, rocked by destiny.
Never knowing what it means to love

someone else more than themselves.
More than life itself, or the promise

of something better, beyond this world.
More, even (forgive me!) than God.

Lucky me. I found the right kind of love. With the wrong person.

Not Wrong for Me

No, not at all. Andrew is pretty much perfect. Not gorgeous, not in a male

model kind of way, but he is really cute,
with crazy hair that sometimes hides

his eyes, dark chocolate eyes that hold laughter, even when he's deadly serious.

He's not a hunk, but toned, and tall enough to effortlessly tuck me under his arms,

arms that are gentle but strong from honest ranch work, arms that make me feel

safe when they gather me in. It's the only time I really feel wanted, and the absolute

best part of any day is when I manage to steal cherished time with Andrew.

No, he's not even a little wrong for me except maybe — maybe! — in the eyes

of God. But much, much worse than that,
he's completely wrong for my parents.

See, My Papa

Is a hellfire-and-brimstone-preaching Assembly of God minister, and Mama

is his not-nearly-as-sweet-as-she-seems right-hand woman, and by almighty God,

their daughters (that's me, Eden, and my little sister, Eve — yeah, no pressure at all)

will toe the Pentecostal line. Sometimes Eve and I even pretend to talk in tongues,

just to keep them believing we're heavenbound,
despite the fact that we go to public school

(Mama's too lazy to homeschool) and come face-to-face with the unsaved every day.

But anyway, my father and mother maintain certain expectations when

it comes to their daughters' all-too-human future plans and desires.

Papa: Our daughters will find husbands within their faith.
Mama: Our daughters will not date until they're ready to marry.

You Get My Dilemma

I'm definitely not ready to marry,
so I can't risk letting them know

I'm already dating, let alone dating a guy who isn't born-again, and even

worse, doesn't believe he needs to be.
Andrew is spiritual, yes. But religious?

Religion is for followers, he told me once. Followers and puppets.
At my stricken look, he became not quite apologetic. Sorry. But I don't
need some money-grubbing preacher defining my relationship with God.

At the time, I was only half in love with Andrew and thought I needed

definitions. "What, exactly, is your relationship with our Heavenly Father?"

He gently touched my cheek, smiled.
First off, I don't think God is a guy.
Some Old Testament-writing fart made that up to keep his old lady
in line. He paused, then added, Why would God need a pecker, anyway?

Yes, he enjoyed the horrified look on my face. More laughter settled

into those amazing eyes, creasing them at the corners. So sexy!

Anyway, I relate to God in a very personal way. Don't need anyone to tell me how to do it better. I see His hand everywhere — in red sunrises and orange sunsets; in rain, falling on thirsty fields; in how a newborn lamb finds his mama in the herd. I thank God for these things. And for you.

After that, I was a lot more than halfway in love with Andrew.

The Funny Thing Is

We actually met at a revival, where nearly everyone was babbling in tongues,

or getting a healthy dose of Holy Spirit healing. Andrew's sister, Mariah, had

forsaken her Roman Catholic roots in favor of born-again believing and had

dragged her brother along that night,
hoping he'd find salvation. Instead

he found me, sitting in the very back row, half grinning at the goings-on.

He slid into an empty seat beside me.
So..., he whispered. Come here often?

I hadn't noticed him come in, and when I turned to respond, my voice caught

in my throat. Andrew was the best-looking guy to ever sit next to me,

let alone actually say something to me.
In fact, I didn't know they came that cute

in Idaho. A good ten seconds passed before I realized he had asked a question.

"I...uh...well, yes, in fact I come here fairly regularly. See the short guy up there?"

I pointed toward Papa, who kept the crowd chanting and praying while the visiting evangelist

busily laid on his hands. "He's the regular preacher and happens to be my father."

Andrew's jaw fell. He looked back and forth, Papa to me. You're kidding, right?

His consternation surprised me. "No,
not kidding. Why would you think so?"

He measured me again. It's look so normal, and this... He shook his head.

I leaned closer to him, and for the first time inhaled his characteristic scent —

clean and somehow green, like the alfalfa fields I later learned he helps work for cash.

I dropped my voice very low. "Promise not to tell, but I know just what you mean."

It Was a Defining Moment

For me, who had never dared confess that I have questioned church dogma

for quite some time, mostly because I am highly aware of hypocrisy and notice

it all too often among my father's flock.
I mean, how can you claim to walk

in the light of the Lord when you're cheating on your husband or stealing

from your best friend/business partner?
Okay, I'm something of a cynic.

But there was more that evening — instant connection, to a guy who on the surface

was very different from me. And yet,
we both knew instinctively that we needed

something from each other. Some people might call it chemistry — two parts hydrogen,

one part oxygen, voilà! You've got water.
A steady trickle, building to a cascade.

If Andrew

Was the poser type, things would probably be easier. I mean, if he could

pretend to accept the Lord into his heart,
on my father's strictest of terms, maybe

we could be seen together in public — not really dating, of course. Not without a ring.

But Andrew is the most honest person I've ever met, and deadly honest that night.

Did you have to come to this thing?
It seems kind of, um...theatrical.

We had slipped out the back door,
when everyone's attention turned to

some unbelievable miracle at the front of the church. I smiled. "Theatrical.

That sums it up pretty well, I guess.
You probably couldn't see it in back, but..."

I glanced around dramatically, whispered,
"Brother Bradley even wears makeup!"

Andrew laughed warmly. So why do you come, then? Pure entertainment?

I shrugged. "Certain expectations are attached to the 'pastor's daughter' job

description. Easier just to meet them, or at least pretend they don't bother you."

It was early November, and the night wore a chill. I shivered at the nip in the air,

or at the sudden magnetic pull I felt toward this perfect stranger. Without a second

thought, Andrew took off his leather jacket, eased it around my shoulders.

Cool tonight, he observed. All the signs point to a hard winter.

He was standing very close to me.
I sank into that earthy green aura, looked

up into his eyes. "You don't believe in miracles, but you do believe in signs?"

His eyes didn't stray an inch. Who says I don't believe in miracles?
They happen every day. And I think we both knew that one just might have.

It Was Unfamiliar Turf

I mean, of course I'd thought guys were cute before, and the truth is, I'd even kissed

a few. But they'd all been "kiss and run,"
and none had come sprinting back for seconds.

Probably because most of the guys here at Boise High know who my father is.

But Andrew went to Borah High, clear across town, and he graduated last year.

He's a freshman at Boise State, where his mom teaches feminist theory. Yes, she and his rancher

dad make an odd couple. Love is like that.
Guess where his progressive theories came from.

That makes him nineteen, all the more reason we have to keep our relationship discreet.

In Idaho, age of consent is eighteen,
and my parents wouldn't even think

twice about locking him up for statutory.
That horrible thought has crossed my mind

more than once in the four months since Andrew decided to take a chance on me.

Four Months

Of him coming to church with Mariah,
both of us patiently wading through Papa's

sermons, then waiting for post-services coffee hours to slip separately out the side doors, into

the thick stand of riverside trees for a walk.
Conversation. After a while, we held hands

as we ducked in between the old cottonwoods,
grown skeletal with autumn. We joked about

how soon we'd have to bring our own leaves for cover. And then one day Andrew stopped.

He pleated me into his arms, burrowed his face in my hair, inhaled. Smells like rain, he said.

My heart quickstepped. He wanted to kiss me. That scared me. What if I wasn't good?

His lips brushed my forehead, the pulse in my right temple. Will I burn if I kiss you?

I was scared, but not of burning, and I wanted that kiss more than anything I'd ever wanted

in my life. "Probably. And I'll burn with you.
But it will be worth it." I closed my eyes.

It was cold that morning, maybe thirty degrees. But Andrew's lips were feverish

against mine. It was the kiss in the dream you never want to wake up from — sultry,

fueled by desire, and yet somehow innocent,
because brand-new, budding love was the heart

of our passion. Andrew lifted me gently in his sinewy arms, spun me in small circles,

lips still welded to mine. I'd never known such joy, and it all flowed from Andrew.

And when we finally stopped, I knew my life had irrevocably changed.

Day by Day

I've grown to love him more and more.
Now, though I haven't dared confess

it yet, I'm forever and ever in love with him. After I tell him (if I ever find the nerve),

I'll have to hide it from everyone. Boise,
Idaho, isn't very big. Word gets around.

Can't even tell Eve. She's awful about keeping secrets. Good thing she goes to

middle school, where she isn't privy to what happens here at Boise High.

I'm sixteen, a junior. A year and a half,
and I'll be free to do whatever I please.

For now, I'm sneaking off to spend a few precious minutes with Andrew.

I duck out the exit, run down the steps,
hoping I don't trip. Last thing I need

is an emergency room visit when I'm supposed to be in study hall. Around one

corner. Two. And there's his Tundra across the street, idling at the curb. He spots me

and even from here, I can see his face light up. Glance left. No one I know.

Right. Ditto. No familiar faces or cars.
I don't even wait for the corner,

but jaywalk midblock at a furious pace, practically dive through the door

and across the seat, barely saying hello before kissing Andrew like I might

never see him again. Maybe that's because always, in the back of my mind, I realize

that's a distinct possibility, if we're ever discovered kissing like this. One other

thought branded into my brain is that maybe kissing like this will bring God's almighty wrath

crashing down all around us. I swear, God,
it's not just about the delicious electricity

coursing through my veins. It's all about love.
And you are the source of that, right? Amen.

Copyright © 2009 by Ellen Hopkins

A Poem by Seth Parnell

As a child, I was wary,
often felt cornered.
To escape, I regularly stashed myself

in the closet,

comforted by curtains of cotton. Silk. Velour.
Avoided wool, which encouraged my


the ever-present rashes on my arms, legs. My skin reacted to secrets, lies,
and taunts by wanting

to break out.

Now I hide behind a wall of silence, bricked in by the crushing desire to confess,

but afraid of

my family's reaction.
Fearful I don't have the strength to survive

the fallout.

As Far Back

As I can remember,

I have known that I was different. I think I was maybe five

when I decided that.

I was the little boy

who liked art projects and ant farm tending better than riding bikes

or playing army rangers.

Not easy, coming from

a long line of farmers and factory workers. Dad's big dream for his only son has

always been tool and die.

My dream is liberal arts,

a New Agey university.
Berkeley, maybe. Or,
even better, San Francisco.

But that won't happen.

Not with Mom Gone

She was the one who

supported my escape plan. You reach for your
dreams, she said. Factory

work is killing us all.

Factory work may

have jump-started it,
but it was cancer that took my mom, one year

and three months ago.

At least she didn't

have to find out about me. She loved me, sure,
with all her heart. Wanted

me to be happy, with all her

heart. But when it came to

sex, she was all Catholic in her thinking. Sex was for making babies, and only

after marriage. I'll never forget

what she said when my cousin

Liz got pregnant. She was just sixteen and her boyfriend hauled his butt out of town, all the way

to an army base in Georgia.

Mom got off the phone with

Aunt Josie, clucking like a hen.
Who would have believed our pretty little Liz would

grow up to be such a whore?

I thought that was harsh,

and told her so. She said,
flat out, Getting pregnant without getting married first

makes her a whore in God's eyes.

I knew better than to argue

with Mom, but if she felt that strongly about unmarried sex, no way could I ever let

her know about me, suffer

the disgrace that would have

followed. Beyond Mom,
Indiana's holier-than-thou conservatives hate "fags" almost

as much as those freaks in Kansas

do — the ones who picket dead

soldiers' funerals, claiming their fate was God's way of getting back at gays. How in

the hell are the two things related?

And Anyway

If God were inclined

to punish someone just for being the way he created them, it would

be punishment enough

to insert that innocent

soul inside the womb of a native Indianan.
These cornfields and

gravel roads are no place

for someone like me.

Considering almost every guy I ever knew growing up is a total jock, with no plans

for the future but farming

or assembly-line work,

it sure isn't easy to fit in at school, even without overtly jumping out of

that frigging closet.

I can't even tell Dad,

though I've come very close a couple of times,
in response to his totally

cliché homophobic views:

Bible says God made

Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, and no damn bleeding-heart liberal

gonna tell me different.

Most definitely not this

bleeding-heart liberal.
Of course, Dad has no clue that's what I am. Or have

become. Because of who

I am, all the way inside,

the biggest part of me,
the part I need to hide.
Wonder what he'd say

if I told him the first person

to recognize what I am

was a priest. Father Howard knew. Took advantage, too.
Maybe I'll confess it all

to Dad someday. But not

while he's still grieving

over Mom. I am too.
And if I lost my dad because of any of this, I really

don't know what I'd do.

So I Keep the Real Seth

Mostly hidden away.

It is spring, a time of hope,
locked in the rich loam we till and plant. Corn.

Maize. The main ingredient

in American ethanol,

the fuel of the future, and so it fuels our dreams. It's a cold March day, but the sun

threatens to thaw me,

like it has started to thaw

the ground. The big John Deere has little trouble tugging the tiller, turning

the soil, readying it for seed.

I don't mind this work.

There's something satisfying about the submission, dirt to churning blades. Submission,

yes, and almost as ancient

as the submission of one

beast, throat up to another.
One human, facedown to another. And always,

always another, hungering.


Drives the beast, human

or otherwise, and it is the essence of humanity.
Hunger for food. Power.

Sex. All tangled together.

It was hunger that made

me post a personal ad on the Internet. Hunger for something I knew

I could never taste here.

Hunger that put me on

the freeway to Louisville,
far away enough to promise secrecy unattainable at home.

Hunger that gave me

the courage to knock on

a stranger's door. Looking back, I realize the danger.
But then I felt invincible.

Or maybe just starved.

I'd Dated Girls, of Course

Trying to convince

myself the attraction toward guys I'd always felt was just a passing thing.

Satan, luring me with

the promise of a penis.

I'd even fallen for a female.
Janet Winkler was dream-girl pretty and sweeter than

just-turned apple cider.

But love and sexual desire

don't always go hand in hand.
Luckily, Janet wasn't looking to get laid, which worked out

just fine. After a while,

though, I figured I should

be looking to get laid, like every other guy my age. So why did the thought of sex

with Janet — who I believed

I loved, even — not turn

me on one bit? Worse, why did the idea of sex with her Neanderthal jock big brother

turn me on so completely?

Not that Leon Winkler

is particularly special.
Not good-looking. Definitely not the brightest bulb in the

socket. What he does have

going on is a fullback's

physique. Pure muscle.
(That includes inside his two-inch-thick skull.) I'd catch

myself watching his butt,

thinking it was perfect.

Something not exactly hetero about that. Weird thing was, that didn't

bother me. Well, except for

the idea someone might

notice how my eyes often fell toward the rhythm of his exit. I never once

lusted for Janet like that.

I tried to let her down

easy. Gave her the ol'
"It's not you, it's me"
routine. But breaking up

is never an easy thing.

Not Easy for Janet

Who never saw it coming.

When I told her, she looked as if she'd been run over by a bulldozer. But you

told me you love me.

"I do love you," I said.

"But things are, well...
confusing right now. You know my mom is sick...."

Can't believe I used

her cancer as an excuse

to try and smooth things over. And it worked, to a point, anyway. At least

it gave Janet something

to hold on to. I know, Seth.

But don't you think you need someone to...?
The denial in my eyes

spoke clearly. She tried

another tactic, sliding

her arms around my neck,
seeking to comfort me. Then she kissed me, and it was

a different kind of kiss

than any we'd shared

before. Swollen with desire.
Demanding. Lips still locked to mine, she murmured, What

if I give you this...?

Her hand found my own,

urged it along her body's contours, all the way to the place between her legs,

the one I had never asked for.

To be honest, I thought

about doing it. What if it cured my confusion after all?
In the heat of the moment,

I even got hard, especially

when Janet touched me,

dropped onto her knees,
lowered my zipper, started to do what I never suspected

she knew how to do. Yes...

No! Shouldn't...How...?

The haze in my brain cleared instantly, and I pushed her away. "No. I can't,"

was all I could say.

All Janet Could Say

Before she stalked off

was, Up yours! What are you, anyway? Gay? Not really expecting a response,

she pivoted sharply, went

in search of moral support.

So she never heard me say,
way under my breath, "Maybe I am gay." It was time, maybe

past, to find out for sure.

But not in Perry County,

Indiana, where if you're not related to someone,
you know someone who

is. All fact here is rooted

in gossip, and gossip can

prove deadly. Like last year,
little Billy Caldwell told Nate Fisher that he saw Nate's mom

kissing some guy out back

of a tavern. Total lie, but

that didn't help Nate's mom when Nate's dad went looking for her, with a loaded shotgun.

Caught up to her after Mass

Sunday morning, and when

he was done, that church parking lot looked like a street in Baghdad. After, Billy felt

kind of bad. But he blamed

Nate's dad one hundred percent.

Not Nate, who took out his grief on Billy's hunting dog. That hound isn't much

good for hunting now, not

with an eye missing. Since

I'd really like to hang on to both of my eyes and all of my limbs, I figured I'd

better find my true self

somewhere other than Perry

County. Best way I could think of was through the
"be anyone you choose to be"

possibilities of online dating.

Granted, One Possibility

Was hooking up with a creep —

a pervert, looking to spread some incurable disease to some poor, horny idiot. I met more

than one pervert, but I never

let them do me. Nope, horny

or not, I wasn't an idiot. No homosexual yokel, anxious enough to get laid to let any

guy who swung the correct

direction into my jeans.

I wanted my first real sex to be with the right guy. Someone experienced enough to teach

me, but not humiliate me.

Someone good-looking.

Young. Educated. A good talker, yes, but a good listener,
too. Someone maybe even

hoping to fall in love.


Unimaginably, Loren turned

out to be all those things,
and I found him in Louisville!
He opened my eyes to a wider

world, introduced me to the

avant-garde — performance art,

nude theater, alternative lit. He gave me a taste for caviar, pâté, excellent

California cabernet. After

years of fried chicken and

Pabst Blue Ribbon, such adjustments could only be born of love. Truthfully,

love was unexpected. I've

said it before, and I'll repeat,

I didn't fall out of the tree yesterday. But that first day,
when Loren opened his door,

I took one look and fell

flat on my face. Figuratively,

of course. I barely stumbled as I crossed the threshold —
into his apartment, and into

the certainty of who I am.

Copyright © 2009 by Ellen Hopkins

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