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.
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