“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