Author: Patricia McCormick
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Novel in Verse
Theme: Child Sexual Slavery
Age Range: 9th through 12th Grade
Summary: from Goodreads
Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. Though she is desperately poor, her life is full of simple pleasures, like playing hopscotch with her best friend from school, and having her mother brush her hair by the light of an oil lamp. But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family’s crops, Lakshmi’s stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family.
He introduces her to a glamorous stranger who tells her she will find her a job as a maid in the city. Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House” full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution.
An old woman named Mumtaz rules the brothel with cruelty and cunning. She tells Lakshmi that she is trapped there until she can pay off her family’s debt—then cheats Lakshmi of her meager earnings so that she can never leave.
Lakshmi’s life becomes a nightmare from which she cannot escape. Still, she lives by her mother’s words— Simply to endure is to triumph—and gradually, she forms friendships with the other girls that enable her to survive in this terrifying new world. Then the day comes when she must make a decision—will she risk everything for a chance to reclaim her life?
The issue of modern day slavery is something that has been more and more on my mind in the last year or so. A good friend of mine is working with an organization called Destiny Rescue, which rescues children in sexual slavery from brothels in Thailand, India, and Cambodia. They also rescue children trapped in bonded labor situations, where they are working to pay of their family's debts in grueling, often dangerous situations. In fact, there will be several reviews of books dealing with indentured child labor or modern day slavery on this blog in the coming weeks-in one of those synchronous twists of the universe I've come into contact with the issue in my personal, religious, and professional life. My friend came and presented about her own rescue trip to Thailand to my youth group, and I subsequently presented a workshop on the topic at a youth conference. Social justice has always been a passion of mine, but the international slave trade and the way that it affects people in the developing world and right here in the United States is something that has a particular draw for me at the moment.
I've long thought that one form of "doing" social justice is raising awareness of issues through the use of high-quality literature. While I am not in a position to go to Thailand myself, nor do I possess the wealth to donate gobs of money to organizations like my friends, I can and will read and share books on social justice topics with my students, the youth I work with, and any adults I can. And since literature is my thing, I actively seek out fictional narratives with the emotional impact that may change people's hearts and minds, or that will help them take steps towards becoming involved themselves in the global justice movement in whatever way they can.
This book is a great example of the kind of high-quality social justice literature that I look for. Sold is a genre bending novel, told in verse. The verse is presented as a series of vignettes that show various aspects of Lakshmi's story. We follow Lakshmi from her small village to the big city, from farm to brothel, and eventually to freedom. Along the way we feel her sorrow, her fear, the numbness she must develop to deal with life as a sex slave, and eventually her hope. McCormick does not shy away from descriptions of the sex trade, and more immature readers may find that difficult. But the book is rich with opportunities for awareness and discussion. It is clear from the narrative the combination of forces that lead families to send their young girls away into bonded labor or sexual slavery-poverty, lack of education, lack of national infrastructure, police and government corruption. All of these have major implications on our fast-growing global economy, and our students-the future leaders of our society-should have an understanding of the inequality that results from lack of opportunity. I would highly recommend this book to as a part of a larger unit that looks at issues of poverty. I was very moved by it, and I think that students would be as well.
Allen and Unwin Unit
CPalms Human Trafficking Unit
Global Literature Unit