Monday, June 22, 2009


by Patricia McCormick. Hyperion, 2006. Library copy. Lakshmi, a 13 year old girl living with her family in a mountain village in Nepal, is spunky and full of hopeful expectation. Her step-father is a gambler who spends what little money she and her mother can scrap together sewing and growing cucumbers, but still Lakshmi thinks she can turn things around and get the family hut a new tin roof if only the drought didn't end in a flood. The family is desperately poor but Lakshmi loves her life in the mountains. She has no concept of what life might be like down in the valley. Everything changes when her father looses bad at cards and sells her in order to pay his debts. At first Lakshmi thinks she is just going away to work in the city as a maid for a rich woman. That may be what her father really believes; we are not sure. But the woman who pays him and leads Lakshmi down the mountain is actually a broker for a man who sells her to a brothel across the border in India.

The journey, first by foot down the mountain and through many villages, and then by train across the border and into Calcutta, is both shocking and overwhelming for Lakshmi. There is no comparison to the horror and desperation she finds when at last she reaches her new life in the "Happiness House". She is beaten, starved, drugged, terrorized, imprisoned and tortured into accepting her lot. Somehow she manages to hang onto the simple truth her mother taught her: "To endure is to triumph". She finds ways to make friendships with the other girls and women caught up in the nightmare. She sees beauty and tenderness and does not give up hope. She schemes to find ways to save up the money they tell her she owes, even though the record book never shows any credit for her work. After over a year, when she begins to realize the death trap she is in, she looks outside for another way of escape.

After the gruesome horror of the main part of this book it is a relief to get to the ending, which is hopeful. The book itself is based on real events that are happening at this moment. The author's note at the end of the book tells us that each year nearly 12,000 Nepali girls are sold by their families. She tells us that the U.S. State department estimates that "nearly half a million children are trafficked ... annually." She traveled to India and Nepal in researching the book, tracing the steps of the young girls brought from remote villages to Calcutta, and interviewed aid workers who get them out of the net. She also met and talked with survivors like Lakshmi. She tells us that there are women who have survived this brutality that now travel the villages and patrol the border seeking to share their stories and prevent more girls from being taken. She writes in their honor.

Sold is not an easy book to read, although I finished it in one sitting. It is written in free verse with strong imagery that is both nuanced and sharp. It's one of those books you never forget, and that you wish were just fiction. Highly recommended for adults and teens, and a good book club pick.

Other reviews:

Readergirlz feature on the book & author chat: ideas for book discussions, music playlist & how to support anti-slavery action (scroll down the page for more).
BookBrowse (with published reviews)
Maw Books blog


Lone Star Ma said...

I read it awhile back. It is powerful.

susan said...

I read it a while ago, too. I loved it. I especially like the format and metaphors are rich and uncomplicated.

Paige Y. said...

This was one of the most powerful books I've read in a long time -- it's one I"m going to recommend to my daughter when she gets a little older.

laurasalas said...

I liked this book, too, though it was hard to read on an emotional level. I remember hearing several writers I know say (or write) that they didn't think books like this should be published because they're too much of a downer and kids "don't need this kind of stuff." While I wouldn't recommend a steady diet of it, I think teens NEED to be more aware of what's going in the world and that not all people live the lives of relative privilege most American teens do. And the writing is beautiful:>)

Lone Star Ma said...

I agree. It isn't like it was written for five-year-olds to read.

Natalie W said...

Great review. I'll have to read this one or atleast try. Not so good with books about children hurting.
I enjoy books about people from the middle east, very interesting.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

It is really hard to read and it kept me awake. I would give it to 13 year olds though, because I think they should know the realities that their age-mates deal with. It's not too graphic for kids who are still kind of unaware but it is clear about the abuse and manipulation. I think it would inspire courage in any young person who is somehow trapped in an abusive situation, even if it's not this extreme. And Lord knows there are plenty girls, rich or not, who are in need of an encouraging, liberating story.

Lorie Ann Grover said...

One of my favs for sure! We loved hosting Patricia at rgz.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Lorie - thanks for reminding me of the Readergirlz feature. Great resource!! I edited my post to include a link. Do you have other link suggestions?