September 2006 by Disney Hyperion
Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. Though she is desperately poor, her life is full of simple pleasures, like playing hopscotch with her best friend from school, and having her mother brush her hair by the light of an oil lamp. But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family’s crops, Lakshmi’s stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family.
He introduces her to a glamorous stranger who tells her she will find her a job as a maid in the city. Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House” full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution.
An old woman named Mumtaz rules the brothel with cruelty and cunning. She tells Lakshmi that she is trapped there until she can pay off her family’s debt—then cheats Lakshmi of her meager earnings so that she can never leave.
Lakshmi’s life becomes a nightmare from which she cannot escape. Still, she lives by her mother’s words— Simply to endure is to triumph—and gradually, she forms friendships with the other girls that enable her to survive in this terrifying new world. Then the day comes when she must make a decision—will she risk everything for a chance to reclaim her life?
Written in spare and evocative vignettes, this powerful novel renders a world that is as unimaginable as it is real, and a girl who not only survives but triumphs.
Sold is an unexpected gem. Kudos to McCormick for managing to take on such a difficult subject as sex trafficking in a realistic way without making me feel uber depressed. We see everything that happens to Lakshmi without it becoming gratuitous. We see the victimization, the drugging, the violence, the disease, the crushing social stigmas, the hopelessness, and the hope. This book is real. I come away from this book feeling like I know Laksmi's home life. I know her life in Calcutta. I know the other girls in the brothel. The whole book just feels real.
I couldn't even bring myself to hate Mumtaz. She's definitely the villain, but she's not demonized. I wish McCormick had given her a back story. I imagine she herself was sold when she was young and is just as trapped in this life as the other girls.
I cannot express how much I love the scenes with Monica. I love her character. I love how sharp she is on the outside to protect the teddy-bear-holding child on the inside. I love her conversation with Lakshmi about their reasons for staying at the brothel. Ignoring the fact that they cannot leave, they cling to the last shred of dignity this life leaves them. Monica proclaims she is paying her daughter's school fees and Lakshmi tells of the tin roof she will buy for her family. This life has torn everything from them, but they hold some small pride in order to survive. I hate but recognize the reality that Monica is forced to return to the brothel when her family casts her out. Prostitution is the only life society has left for her. And when she leaves the brothel because she has contracted AIDS, we never hear about her again because we can never know what happened to this girl who slipped through the cracks of an unjust world.
Even though Sold is a short novel, it is just the right length for the story it tells. The audio book is excellent, but now that I realize the book is written in verse, I wish I had read it in print. This is a beautiful novel. It is a realistic portrayal of a horrible life that is still hopeful and appropriate for young adult readers. Though, it's probably too much for most middle graders.