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SOLD Paperback – April 1, 2008
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Grade 9 Up – As this heartbreaking story opens, 13-year-old Lakshmi lives an ordinary life in Nepal, going to school and thinking of the boy she is to marry. Then her gambling-addicted stepfather sells her into prostitution in India. Refusing to be with men, she is beaten and starved until she gives in. Written in free verse, the girls first-person narration is horrifying and difficult to read. In between, men come./They crush my bones with their weight./They split me open./Then they disappear. I hurt./I am torn and bleeding where the men have been. The spare, unadorned text matches the barrenness of Lakshmis new life. She is told that if she works off her familys debt, she can leave, but she soon discovers that this is virtually impossible. When a boy who runs errands for the girls and their clients begins to teach her to read, she feels a bit more alive, remembering what it feels like to be the number one girl in class again. When an American comes to the brothel to rescue girls, Lakshmi finally gets a sense of hope. An authors note confirms what readers fear: thousands of girls, like Lakshmi in this story, are sold into prostitution each year. Part of McCormicks research for this novel involved interviewing women in Nepal and India, and her depth of detail makes the characters believable and their misery palpable. This important book was written in their honor.–Alexa Sandmann, Kent State University, OH
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Lakshmi, 13, knows nothing about the world beyond her village shack in the Himalayas of Nepal, and when her family loses the little it has in a monsoon, she grabs a chance to work as a maid in the city so she can send money back home. What she doesn't know is that her stepfather has sold her into prostitution. She ends up in a brothel far across the border in the slums of Calcutta, locked up, beaten, starved, drugged, raped, "torn and bleeding," until she submits. In beautiful clear prose and free verse that remains true to the child's viewpoint, first-person, present-tense vignettes fill in Lakshmi's story. The brutality and cruelty are ever present ("I have been beaten here, / locked away, / violated a hundred times / and a hundred times more"), but not sensationalized. An unexpected act of kindness is heartbreaking ("I do not know a word / big enough to hold my sadness"). One haunting chapter brings home the truth of "Two Worlds": the workers love watching The Bold and the Beautifulon TV though in the real world, the world they know, a desperate prostitute may be approached to sell her own child. An unforgettable account of sexual slavery as it exists now. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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McCormick is a writer's writer, and the calibre of wordsmithing is a cut above your average YA fare. She first conjures the natural beauty of mountainous Nepal, even though her protagonist, a thirteen-year-old girl named Lakshmi, is dirt poor. Then, for contrast, she describes the claustrophobic penury and filth of Lakshmi's city captivity. In Nepal, our young protagonist lives with her Ama and her evil stepfather (a twist on the Cinderella motif). It is he who ultimately gambles what little they have away and heartlessly sells his stepdaughter into slavery (she assumes she is going off to be a maid and bravely vows to send what she earns home so her Ama can install a tin roof on their hut).
After a grueling trip into India, Lakshmi slowly discovers what's up and refuses to partake, but is drugged and forced to acquiesce. There are two scenes where it is clear what is happening, yet McCormick is anything but brutal and ugly while describing these brutal and ugly acts against an innocent child. Nevertheless, a mature and sensitive reader is called for, and the book is recommended more for high school aged readers and adults.
Written in free verse, an increasingly popular style of writing in the YA trade, SOLD will move you and anger you -- exactly McCormick's intent. It's beautifully written and worth all of the accolades it has received (it is a National Book Award finalist). Highly recommended.
At first Lakshmi shows some resistance but when she is told that she must work off her debt and that it goes to her family her resistance weakens and she does what she is told...there are many smaller characters from this point on in the book that warmed my heart like one of the other girl's sons, and the tea boy...they offered Lakshmi hope where there was little. To see what happens for this young girl you need to read this book...it shows another look into the harrowing world of human/sex trafficking in another part of the world and will again make you hug your daughters/niece/any young person close when you know this is a reality for so many young girls in the world. A wonderful book, and I liked the preface of Lakshmi telling the entire story, it was simple and to the point, the ending was very hopeful, but we all need that sometimes. :)
I was saddened enough to learn of the squalid conditions of Lakshmi's life in her home country of Nepal, but once her stepfather insisted she be "sold" to be a maid (sic) to help the family out financially is when the drama really begins. (Of course, had he been more financially responsible, Lakshmi wouldn't have needed to help provide or the family.)
Lakshmi, age 13, doesn't really know the motives of her handler/s until she gets to Calcutta, India. The journey to her place of "employment" is arduous, with lots of twists and turns. Because she is starting to feel uneasy, she wants to remember the way back home--just in case--but it "is like trying to clutch a handful of fog." Yet, she has a feeling of duty to her mother, Ama, so she also tries to forget her uneasiness, which is "like trying to hold back the monsoon."
Her employer, and now owner, is Mumtaz who has deceived her and her parents about the real objective of Laksmi's employment as a sex slave in a house ironically called "The Happiness House." This is where quickie sex is had for 30 rupies (about 50 cents), the then-cost of a can of Coca-Cola. Her step father bargained her away for 600 rupies ($11.00)--with the promise of more--and she was sold again until her value reached 10,000 rubies ($185), but her female, slave-holding employer places 20,000 rubies ($370) on the books as her debt--to cover all expenses: food, heat, medical shots and such.
Even when these enslaved girls (some women) are "free" they are not. One "worker" in this slave trade thought her parents "would honor and thank [her]." Instead when her parents heard she was coming home, "They met [her] outside the village and begged [her] not to come back and disgrace them." And they told this daughter of theirs that they had told the girl's own child that her mother was dead, as a way of explaining her absence. And these are the parents who sold her into this condition!
As I read the latter part of the book I was filled with shame and anger about my fellow males. How COULD they desire a child to get their sexual kicks or superstitiously believe such copulation would heal them of an ailment?! And I was filled with sadness about the treatment of the female sex (child or adult). This book was researched in 2005-plus when "12,000 Nepali [only] girls were sold by their families, unwittingly--that's the only saving grace--into a life of sexual slavery in the brothels of India" (p. 165). And that is just a portion of the half million so sold worldwide.
As one book jacket blub states: "This is a hard-hitting...poignant book." Although it is written like an autobiography it is really a compilation of the terrible horror these young girls go through--and sometimes never escape. And, worse yet, sometimes become part of the system...because who else wants them?
About a year ago I heard of this phenomenon and gave $100 to the cause, and it's time to do it again. I also recently met a beautiful twenty-something Nepali-American woman and mentioned this practice to her. She had probably been upper-class in Nepal and denied the practice and had never heard of it. Obviously, only the very poor are approached.