Sold – A Review

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“Trying to remember, I have learned, is like trying to clutch a handful of fog. Trying to forget, like trying to hold back a monsoon.”

I have been offered many illegal things in different places I have lived, but Calcutta is the only place where I was offered preteens for “very small price”. It was so implausible that it was only seconds after the interaction that the true nature of the offer dawned on me and I felt sick to my stomach. It remains a very strong, repellant and visual memory. While my focus in general on this blog is on books for younger children, reading SOLD by Patricia McCormick this week was such an emotive experience that I felt the need to review this YA book here. It is a book that reflects some serious research by the author and through this moving story does, I believe, do an effective job in opening our hearts to a cultural situation so very removed from our own.

Sold is the fictional account of a thirteen-year-old Nepalese girl, Lakshmi. As with so many villagers high up in the Himalayas, life is precarious, even more so when the head of the household, Lakshmi’s stepfather, is an irresponsible, drunken cripple. The arrival of the monsoon season threatens to strip the family of the little they have, and Lakshmi is ordered by her stepfather to take work in the city to ensure the family’s survival. We are not told explicitly, but my interpretation is that the stepfather knowingly sells his stepdaughter for a small sum into prostitution.

The choice of poetic prose as the literary vehicle of this novel is astute and persuasive. Sentences, paragraphs and often chapters, are short, but pack an incredible punch. The story switches from familiar, comforting Himalayan images to harsh, cruel facts. Even in such degradation, supportive relationships are possible and bring a lifeline to Lakshmi, along with her calculations as to how long it will take to pay of her debt to Mumtaz, the brothel boss. So many have deceived her that slowly she becomes a little hardened and a little street-wise. Having been beaten, starved, drugged and raped she still clings to hope, until discovering that her debt to Mumtaz can never de paid off. The book does end with the possibility of freedom and this is my only hesitation, as I would have loved to have had more be made of what indigenous Indians and Nepalese are doing to combat this sex slavery. At the same time, I am sure what American , and other nations’ NGO’s and missions are doing, is laudable and valuable.

I don’t know that many of us can ever really identify with a character like Laskshmi, but McCormick’s portrayal of the protagonist certainly provokes empathy. Life in the brothel has just enough detail included and excluded to horrify and yet give a whisper of hope, making me believe this book would be accessible to even some (mature) young teens. The free verse is a beautiful and easy read, but one very hard on the heart. This book will be among others on my desk ready to lend out this term. I think it important to note that while this book is based on the fact that 12,000 Nepali girls are sold each year by their families, knowingly or unknowingly into a life of sexual slavery in the brothels of India, this problem is in no way just restricted to the Indian subcontinent. This type of huma traffiking is big business in Europe, as in other parts of the world, and books such as Sold help raise awareness of these tragic facts.

I am very much looking forward to Patricia McCormick being interviewed on Emma Walton Hamilton’s Children’s Book Hub next month.

Sold won the following :

ALA Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults 2007

National Book Award Finalist 2007

National Public Radio – Top 100 Books of the Year 2007

Book Sense Pick 2007

California Young Reader Medal 2007

Quill Award 2007

Gustav-Heinemann-Peace Prize 2008


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11 Responses to Sold – A Review

  1. Oh my. This sounds like such an intense read. It’s horrifying that such things happen and continue to happen throughout our world, but it is unfortunately true. Even without being sold into that life, there are girls here who run away from home and end up working the streets because it’s the only way they can see to survive, or they get enticed or forced into it by pimps. Perhaps if girls read books such as Sold, they would think twice before taking the first step that would lead to a life on the streets, our society’s equivalent to Lakshmi’s ordeal.

    Reading this book will definitely be a “stretched beyond my comfort zone” experience — but that’s a good thing. Thank you for this review.

    • Joanna says:

      It would be interesting to chat to teens to see if they feel such a book would be a deterrent or whether they feel the story is so far removed from their own lives.

      Also if you are in the library, I highly recommend another of Patricia’s books, CUT!

      • Good point. Perhaps a book about a girl on the streets of Vancouver (or some other such place) would bring things home more. Not that I’m planning to write such a book — way too dark for me!

        • Joanna says:

          I think you’re right and I would LOVE to write a book like SOLD, it’s the type of YA I think I might actually feel comfortable with attempting. (first time I have ever considered writing in this genre!!)

          • I think you could write a book that would really speak to YA readers — go for it!

            I’ve just finished reading Sold. Incredibly powerful, in such sparse language. I’m psyching myself up to read the rest of her writing. I would very much like to hear teen’s views of her books. Her next book (as read about on her website) sounds intriguing. Now to formulate intelligent questions to ask for the Hub interview…

  2. Diane says:

    Such a grippingly moving review Joanna. This is the kind of book I enjoy.
    The powerful emotion sucking the air out of me, reducing me to tears. I too will be looking forward to Patricia McCormicks Interview. I want this book!
    Thankyou so much!

  3. Joanna says:

    Thanks, Diane, it is a quick read, only maybe three hours, but you will be thinking about the message for days!

  4. Patricia Tilton says:

    Sorry, I missed your blog yesterday and didn’t see a new post. I always gravitate to stories like this — and so, I found your review meaningful. This is really a shocking account of what happens to 12,000 girls in Nepal — never realized such an atrocity was occuring there. Knew it happened in India as you mentioned. I just got both books at the library. I support a young woman in Nepal through, a microfinancing organizations aimed towards helping women own their businesses and improve their lives.

    I think it is a book older teens can handle. We did an exhibit last winter at the Dayton International Peace Museum, and I was shocked to learn that Toledo, OH, ranked first in the country for sex slavery. It happens here too!

    Excellent rview. Would you be able to put such a book in your library? Will look forward to Patricia McCormick’s interview.


    • Joanna says:

      These microfinancing organizations are wonderful as they give so many women such independence and pride. You are so right, it happens all over the world 🙁

      We already have CUT in the library and I just spoke to the librarian about adding SOLD, she wants to borrow it from me 😉 I would like to read more of Patty’s books now, but they will go on my to be bought list unless I can find them among the audio books.

  5. Pingback: Sold – The Movie | Miss Marple's Musings

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