Sold into Slavery: Young Adult Literature and Social JusticeSold by Patricia McCormick
Published by Disney Electronic Content on July 10th 2010
Genres: Asia, Contemporary, Friendship, People & Places, Sexual Abuse, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 272

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.

Lakshmi is thirteen years old when she leaves her home in the mountains of Nepal, and travels to India, on the pretense that she will work as a maid in someone’s home. Her family desperately needs her support, so she willingly goes. What she does not know, however, is that her stepfather has sold her into prostitution, and after passing through various people, she finds herself owned by a woman who manages a brothel. Published in 2006, Sold by Patricia McCormick, tells Lakshmi’s story via a novel in verse.

The beautiful poetry depicts the harsh reality of Lakshmi’s story. Her life is no longer her own. She is trapped in a nightmare existence with other young girls like herself, and continually calculates how much money she makes each night, in order to pay the debt she owes the manager of the brothel. However, it is difficult for her to avoid despair, as the manager makes it virtually impossible for her to ever buy her freedom.

At least a year passes, and Lakshmi is presented with the possibility of escape: an American man arrives and asks if she is being held against her will, and if she would like to leave. It takes some more time, however, and another American, before Lakshmi understands that leaving “Happiness House” is an option. With the help of this American and authorities who have not been paid off by the brothel, Lakshmi is offered a chance at freedom. If you read this beautifully written novel in verse told from Lakshmi’s perspective as a thirteen and then fourteen year old, you will find out what happens in the conclusion. I can at least assure you that the end of the novel is hopeful and inspiring. I can also assure you that you won’t forget this book should you pick it up, and some of you may not put it down until you have turned the last page.

Patricia McCormick has written an intense and powerful story, depicting a very real social issue that readers, both young adult and adults, would do well to discuss. The novel creates a space for educational use that will be discussed in more depth in one of my (Catherine) “Educator’s Corner” blogs in the near future. Does the novel carry the potential to engage the spirituality of the reader? Certainly. In one way, this story can take the reader outside of herself/himself because of its highlighting an issue that is real and present in our world. In this way, some readers may close the book with a heightened awareness that motivates them to take action—to give finances to an organization or make others aware of this problem in our world. Additionally, by reading about a real issue through the lens of a young protagonist, readers’ empathetic literacy may be engaged due to the book’s ability to put the reader in the middle of the situation.

McCormick researched for the book by traveling to Nepal and India, and walking the route that young girls from Nepal travel every year, on their way to a life of prostitution in India. Many of the girls unknowingly walk into such a life. The reality is that each year 12,000 girls are sold by their families to brothels in India. Some are sold for as little as three hundred dollars. McCormick interviewed girls that had been rescued from sex slavery, as well as the aid workers who labor to help such young women. McCormick found that many of the survivors share their stories, and work to help make other families and girls aware of what happens when young girls leave their homes for India, with the offer of jobs.

Though I was aware of this issue before encountering the book, reading this powerful novel in verse from the perspective of a thirteen year old girl illuminated the tragedy of human trafficking even more strongly. Perhaps that is why I feel strongly about recommending this novel to readers both young and old. Books like this CAN motivate people to take action. To tell others. To find organizations that are putting into action what they preach about rescuing girls out of trafficking.

Words are powerful. Words can change the world. History has shown us this time and time again. Perhaps such books as Sold can bring about change, one reader at a time.

After reading McCormick’s story, I am thinking about the power of readers to affect the world around them as a response to the story they have encountered. This is significant, even if that action is as simple as passing the book along to someone else. It is possible that the “someone else” is a person who does have influence and resources available to participate in helping to end human slavery somewhere around the world. I think about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and how a book can awaken society to an issue, thereby offering them an opportunity to step into the conversation about how to respond. Art is powerful. Texts are powerful. Certainly, McCormick reminds me of this.

Have you encountered such books? How have they motivated you to DO something after you finished reading the last page? What action did you take?

What Katie Read