Sold (2006) is Patricia McCormick's third novel for young adult readers and the winner of a 2007 Quill Award. Focusing on the life of Lakshmi, a young girl from a mountain village in Nepal who is sold into prostitution in India, the book is a powerful statement about the sex trade and one girl's ability to survive desperate circumstances. Written in a series of almost poetic vignettes, Sold relays the confusion and immediacy of Lakshmi's situation and of her ultimate decision to allow herself to be rescued.
McCormick was inspired to write Sold after meeting a young photographer who had been working undercover to document young girls working in Indian brothels. The author then spent about a month in Nepal and India researching the book, talking with girls who had been forced to work as prostitutes. She learned of the horrible abuse they suffered, how they were kicked out of brothels when too sick to work, and the plight of children born there. As McCormick relayed in her novel, even if the girls somehow get out of the brothel, they are nearly always rejected by their families, if they can find them again.
While the trip gave her the information McCormick needed for the book, the experience and the girls' often wretched lives left her depressed, full of despair, and unable to write for weeks. Getting past the darkness, she eventually completed the text of Sold, which was widely acclaimed when it was published. McCormick hoped the novel would inspire its young readers to take action themselves.
As McCormick wrote in Amnesty International's online newsletter in 2006, “I want the book to make activists out of those who read it. Fiction…is in my view, one of the best ways to mobilize people. It asks questions of you in a way that headlines and soundbites don't. (When you understand that a human being can be bought for as little as three hundred dollars, you look at your Ipod in a whole new way.)”
Patricia McCormick was born May 23, 1956, in Washington, D.C., the daughter of A.J. and Ann McCormick. Raised in suburbia, she eventually earned her bachelor's degree from Rosemont College in 1978, then a master's degree at Columbia University in 1985. McCormick pursued a career as a journalist, working as a crime reporter for New Brunswick, New Jersey's I Home News. She later wrote entertainment columns and childrens' movie reviews for the New York Times and was childrens' movie reviewer and contributing editor to Parents magazine for eight years.
After leaving Parents in 1992, McCormick became a freelance writer, contributing to publications such as the New York Times Book Review and Ladies' Home Journal. She also began developing her skills as a novelist. McCormick wrote a historical novel for young readers about the Underground Railroad, but it was rejected for publication. Desiring to improve her writing, she entered a master of fine arts writing program at the New School for Social Research, near her home in New York City, and earned the degree in 1999. McCormick also took classes in Vermont College's master of fine arts writing for children program in the late 1990s.
During her graduate school years, McCormick began writing what became her first novel for young adult readers, Cut, based on an article she read in the New York Times Magazine. Published in 2000, the novel focuses on the phenomenon of teens, primarily young girls, cutting themselves to relieve emotional pain. The book was a critical success and won the author several awards, including being named the Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association in 2002.
McCormick followed Cut with another novel for young adult readers, My Brother's Keeper (2005). This book centers on a family falling apart after a man leaves his wife and three sons. While the mother struggles with money problems and depression, the boys face their own challenges, including drug addiction. A year later, McCormick published her powerful young adult novel Sold, which focuses on the trafficking of young Nepali girls into the sex trade in India. Critically praised, the novel won a Quill Award in the adult/teen category in 2007 and was nominated for a Young People's National Book Award.
After the publication of Sold, McCormick continued to work as a freelance writer, taught creative writing to third-graders, and planned to write a young adult novel about a girl whose brother is killed in Iraq. As of early 2008, McCormick still lives in New York City with her husband and children.
“A Tin Roof” to “Stranger”
Sold opens with thirteen-year-old Lakshmi offering to work in the city as a maid to pay for the tin roof the family needs. Her mother, Ama, wants her to stay in school despite her stepfather's feelings on the matter. Lakshmi believes he cares more about money to spend on himself than about a tin roof.
Over the next few sections, Lakshmi describes her life in her village. She remembers a time when she played with her best friend, Gita, who now lives in the city working as a maid for a rich woman. Though Gita is gone, Lakshmi is close to her mother Ama, to the family goat Tali, and to her baby brother. She praises her mother's beauty, comparing it to the mountain and the goddess who lives there. She says of her mother that “her slender back, which bears our troubles—and all our hopes—is more beautiful still.”
Lakshmi does not regard her stepfather as highly. He has a withered arm from a childhood accident, and he uses it as an excuse to not work. Instead, the stepfather plays cards. Her mother believes that they are lucky to have him in their lives. He married her after her first husband died. Lakshmi knows that he does not value her or any other female children.
As Lakshmi describes life in their village in Nepal, it is clear that she appreciates the natural beauty of her surroundings, but is fully aware of how harsh life can be. She finds solace in the cucumbers she is raising, which she has named. She soon gets her first period, and Ama tells her the rituals she must undergo and all the rules she must follow now that she has reached maturity. Lakshmi is no longer a child, and must be more demure to men and be subservient to her future husband.
Nature soon makes Lakshmi's life more difficult. The dry season comes, and it does not rain for fifty days, making life tough for the crops, for Tali, and especially for the baby. The lack of rain compels Lakshmi's stepfather to consider selling his wife's earrings. Ama does not want him to, as they are her daughter's dowry. Instead, the next day he takes Lakshmi's cucumbers to sell and probably gambles the money away.
When the rains come, the situation is not better, just different. Because the roof is full of holes, Ama has had to put pots and pitchers out to catch the drip. The village suffers the worst rainy season in years. Tired of being trapped in the leaky house, Lakshmi's stepfather goes in to town to gamble, leaving Lakshmi to enjoy a night alone with her mother. Soon afterward, however, a period of nonstop rain washes the rice plants away, and the family loses everything. Lakshmi sees that Gita's family still has their plants because Gita's father built paddy walls to protect their crop. Lakshmi is angry about her stepfather's laziness.
The family's situation grows more dire when the stepfather disappears for a week. Ama sells the family's hen and chicks, but creditors come to the hut demanding money. Ama has had to sell her earrings for food. Lakshmi wonders if her stepfather is accruing more debts somewhere, but he returns wearing a new hat and coat.
“Festival of Lights” to “A City of the Dead”
Lakshmi explains what happens on each day of the festival, but also notes that because of her family's poverty, they cannot fully honor the festival's goddess, after whom Lakshmi is named. On the third night of the festival, her stepfather takes Ama's money packet and goes to gamble with it believing the goddess will favor gamblers. Ama, Lakshmi, and the baby go to the festival, where Ama gives her daughter money to buy a sweet cake. At the festival, a city woman approaches Lakshmi and tells her that life is easy for girls who live in the city. The city woman wants to take Lakshmi with her, but the girl refuses.
In the middle of the night, the stepfather returns home with a motorcycle he won off someone at the festival. Lakshmi sees that they could sell it and have all they need. Instead, when he takes it to the tea shop to show off, he loses the motorcycle—as well as his new coat and hat—while gambling. In the morning, Ama is upset, and Lakshmi later finds her crying. The stepfather has decided that Lakshmi will go to the city and be a maid. Lakshmi is happy to go and help the family, and Ama tries to prepare her for how she should act.
The next morning, the stepfather takes Lakshmi to Bajai Sita's store in the village. There, he negotiates a price for his stepdaughter with the city woman. He gets eight hundred rupees for her, but Lakshmi is confused about why he is getting money now. After the stepfather gets the money, he spends it on items for him, though Lakshmi also includes items for her mother and brother.
After he leaves, Lakshmi leaves the village with the city woman, whom she calls Auntie. The woman keeps her moving forward as they walk for several days through a number of villages, then ride in a vehicle to a city. Along the way, Lakshmi feels proud to be the first person in her family to leave the village for the city. After Lakshmi and the woman reach the city, they get on a bus, and take it to another, even bigger city. When they finally arrive at their destination, Auntie gives her new clothes and shoes to put on. Auntie takes her to a man and sells Lakshmi to him.
Lakshmi is confused, but he tells her that he is now her uncle, but she must call him her husband when they cross the border. Riding in a cart, they successfully cross the border from Nepal into India, then take a train to another city. Uncle Husband, as she calls him, treats her well by buying her food and sweets, but she is also told not to run away or her family will see no money. She sees what happens to women who try to run away from their husbands; at a train stop, a woman's head is shaved to identify her as a disgraced woman, and she is physically punished by other men in public before her husband takes her home. Lakshmi and Uncle Husband finally arrive at the city.
“Walking in the City” to “A Pronouncement”
In the crowded city, Lakshmi is overwhelmed by what she sees, as Uncle Husband takes her to her new home. They finally arrive at Happiness House, where she sees girls dressed up with painted faces lounging around in the afternoon. Lakshmi is confused, and wonders if they are movie stars. Uncle Husband then sells Lakshmi to Auntie Mumtaz for ten thousand rupees. After he leaves, one of the other girls takes Lakshmi to a small room and she is locked inside. Lakshmi can only think of what good she has done for her family, and then falls asleep.
When Lakshmi finally wakes up, she is taken downstairs by two girls and sees television for the first time. Her fascination with it ends when Mumtaz comes in and yells at the girls in what Lakshmi calls “city language.” The girls then brush Lakshmi's hair and make up her face and nails. Mumtaz asks her if she is ready to go to work, and Lakshmi agrees though she does not understand how she can do chores in such an outfit.
Mumtaz takes her to a room where an old man waits. Because Lakshmi resists, Mumtaz drags her to him. He kisses her and gets on top of her, and tries to have sex with her. When he puts his tongue in her mouth, she bites down on it. While he screams, she runs into the room where she has been staying and gets her things together to leave. Mumtaz tells her that she cannot, because she is too ignorant of where she is to get home. The woman goes on to explain that she bought Lakshmi, and the girl will work there until she pays off her debt. Mumtaz then has Lakshmi's head shaved so she cannot run away.
Lakshmi spends the next several days locked in her room, enduring daily beatings from Mumtaz and her leather strap. Lakshmi still refuses to have sex with men, so Mumtaz decides to starve her until she submits. She holds out for five days before another girl who speaks her language, Shahanna, brings her a cup of tea. Shahanna tries to convince her to do the job as life is worse out on the streets. Lakshmi continues not to eat for a number of days, and Mumtaz announces one day that she will let the girl live.
“A Cup of Lassi” to “Shilpa's Secret”
Agirl then brings Lakshmi a cup of lassi that has been laced with something that makes her lose control. As she slips in and out of consciousness, Mumtaz brings a man, Habib, to her room. Lakshmi is not fully aware as he has sex with her. When he is done, she realizes that she has been crying. The next evening when Lakshmi wakes up, she is in pain. She sees herself in the mirror, and thinks, “She has blackened tiger eyes and bleary chili pepper lips. She looks back at me full of sadness and scorn and says, You have become one of them.”
This pattern continues for some time. Lakshmi is regularly given a cup of laced lassi and has sex with many men. She also hallucinates about other people coming into her room, including her stepfather, Auntie Bimla, and Baija Sita. Lakshmi becomes physically battered by all the sexual relations she is forced to have, but the stream of men continues. She takes comfort in smelling her old skirt from home, still full of comforting smells.
Shahanna tries to help by giving her a condom and some bread, but she also tells her that most men will not use them and not to insist. Lakshmi continues to remember her past life. One day, the situation changes and Mumtaz says that she must leave the room as she can no longer be sold as a virgin. When Lakshmi asks if she can go now, Mumtaz informs her that she still has to work off the twenty thousand rupees.
Lakshmi knows this figure is wrong, and is upset. Lakshmi will now share a room with a few girls, and spend each evening downstairs, attracting customers. A new frightened girl takes her place in the small room, but she later kills herself. Finally allowed to walk around the house, Lakshmi finds it odd to be free. She goes to the kitchen and collapses from pain. Shahanna helps her eat rice and then watch television with the other girls.
Upstairs, Lakshmi finds her roommates include Shahanna, Anita, who is also from Nepal, Pushpa, and Pushpa's two children. Pushpa has a coughing illness and came to work for Mumtaz after the death of her husband. In addition to her baby Jeena, Puspha has an eight-year-old son, Harish, dubbed “David Beckham boy” by Lakshmi. He goes to school and loves soccer.
Shahanna soon explains how the brothel works. In addition to outlining the rules for dealing with customers, she also tells Lakshmi that she must attract them now to pay off her debt, keep herself clean, and hide any sweets or tips she might get from Mumtaz. Lakshmi also learns about the children of the women, who Mumtaz allows them to have because they make their mothers more in debt, as Mumtaz lends them money to pay for clothes and adornments. It also allows the women to have some type of family. The kids go to school, do their homework, and, if old enough, spend the nights playing on the roof of the building while their mothers work.
As Lakshmi services customers, she becomes aware of how much they are paying for her. She is not working down her debt as fast as she thought because Mumtaz charges her for everything from food to the bed to the birth control shot a doctor gives her once a month. Lakshmi realizes that she has little hope of escape, and eventually even her clothes no longer smell like home.
Lakshmi resents the freedom that the David Beckham boy has for living a relatively normal life, but she observes him often. She notes that he has a business running errands for the women, as well as their customers, keeping his earnings in a small trunk. When he is gone, she looks at his things and tries to read a picture book he has. Harish catches her one day, and he offers the book to her. She runs away that time, though later he offers to teach her to read the words in the book. After school, he comes home and teaches her Hindi words and phrases, much to her delight. She keeps a record of her debt calculations and the words he has taught her in a small notebook.
Lakshmi is also entertained one day when the television no longer works, and Monica and Shilpa, who is there of her own free will and is Mumtaz's spy, tell the story from a movie they saw. Lakshmi learns that certain girls are allowed to go to the movies. Though most of the women cannot leave, they get a few visitors during the day, including a street boy who sells tea and other items to the girls from a wire caddy. Because Lakshmi never buys any, he asks her why she does not in her own language. She is embarrassed to have someone from her country see her in this place.
“How Are You Today?” to “The Words Harish Taught Me”
Harish begins to teach Lakshmi some English words and phrases from a new book that he was given by another school he goes to on Saturdays. The school is run by Americans, and Harish tells Lakshmi it is not true that Americans shame the children of brothels, as Anita believes. While Harish tells her that Mumtaz made up the story to keep the girls from running away, Lakshmi is not as sure. Because of the lessons, Lakshmi was able to understand a customer who treated her with kindness, held her, and said “Thank you” in English. She is sad that he does not return, though she holds out hope for nearly a month.
Lakshmi cries a few tears when Harish gives her a new pencil on the day of the festival of brothers and sisters. The next day, she gives him a soccer ball made from rags tied tightly together. The rags came from her shawl from home. Harish happily takes it outside to play with, and she feels that a piece of her has left the building. He continues to teach her English words.
Lakshmi grows sick one night, moving between fever and chills. Mumtaz accuses her of faking, but Harish points out her fever. Mumtaz gets her medicine, for which she charges Lakshmi. She is able to get out of bed a few days later, but sees herself in the mirror as a tired, old corpse. Lakshmi is surprised later to see that Monica has returned after she had worked her way out of debt to Mumtaz. Her family did not want her to return to her village, and she was beaten by her father's cane.
Pushpa's illness grows worse and she is unable to work for several days. Mumtaz kicks her out, but wants to buy baby Jeena to raise and use as a prostitute when she is older. Pushpa will not let that happen, and when Harish comes home from school, they pack their things and leave. He gives Lakshmi the American storybook to keep, though she does not understand all the words. After Harish is gone, Lakshmi watches television in the afternoons instead of learning new words. She no longer has any reason to smile and realizes that she is probably now fourteen years old. Monica gives Lakshmi her rag doll to comfort her in her loss of Harish.
One day, an American man comes to Lakshmi. He does not have sex with her, but tries to talk to her in her own language. He asks her how old she is, inquires if she is being held there against her will, and if she wants to leave. Lakshmi believes Anita's words that the Americans will fool you, and says nothing. He leaves his business card with her, and she hides it under the floor mat. Lakshmi later tells Shahanna about him, and while they both fear the consequences and dangers, they both consider going.
As the dry, hot season settles in, Monica is put out because she develops a virus (probably AIDS). The brothel is raided by police, and all the girls find places to hide. Lakshmi and Anita hide in a cupboard, but Shahanna is found and taken. Mumtaz orders them to clean up the mess left behind, including the broken television. Some of the girls, like Anita, believe that the Americans were behind the raid and that they took Shahanna. Others, like Shilpa, believe the police raided because Mumtaz was behind on her bribe payment. Lakshmi blames herself and spends days in bed.
Lakshmi only gets out of bed when Anita begs her, and Mumtaz threatens to sell Lakshmi to another brothel. Anita helps her up and puts makeup on her so she can really work again. When another American customer comes, Lakshmi shows him the business card but all this American cares for is sex. She looks at her figures and thinks she might be free of debt to Mumtaz next year. Though it is risky, she shows the figures to Mumtaz who shares her own calculations. Mumtaz says that Lakshmi will be there for at least five more years.
Taking a cue from Monica, Lakshmi starts to aggressively pursue customers so she can be free of Happiness House more quickly. She even stands up to Shilpa, and tries to steal one of her regular customers. Lakshmi still feels for the new girls that come, and believes that Mumtaz is wrong for using them. She considers starting to drink like Shilpa, but the street vendor boy will only give her tea for free. He even brings her a bottle of Coca-Cola, a gift she appreciates. Because he has not paid his boss in full for the drinks, he is beaten.
Lakshmi decides to borrow money from Mumtaz to help him out. Shilpa is in the counting room instead of Mumtaz. Shilpa informs Lakshmi that no money is going to her family, and that she will never be able to pay what she owes to Mumtaz before she gets sick and tossed out on the streets. Lakshmi does not want to believe it, thinking “She is wrong. Because if she is right, everything I've done here, everything that's been done to me, was for nothing.”
After learning this truth, Lakshmi spends several days in bed. When she returns to work, she is determined to show the American's business card to the boy. He comes the next day, which he announces is his last because his boss is replacing him. As the other girls watch, Lakshmi hugs him, slips him the card, and whispers in his ear. Nothing happens for at least a week, and Lakshmi realizes that she has been at the Happiness House longer than most of the girls there.
A different American appears at the door one afternoon. Lakshmi gets him upstairs, and he asks her questions. He takes her picture on a digital camera, offers to take her to a safe place, and shows her other pictures of Nepali girls who are safe. She shows him Harish's book and says a few words in English. He tells her that he will come back for her with members of the police, and she says she will go.
In preparation, Lakshmi packs her things and puts them under her bed. She is upset when he has not come back more than five days later; she then gets sick again. A few days later, she panics when Mumtaz makes a hot chili punishment for a girl who has betrayed her. Lakshmi believes it is her, but it is really Kumari, a new girl. Because Lakshmi has acted guilty, Mumtaz is suspicious and grinds her head into the floor, tearing her earlobe.
The police and the American finally come one afternoon, and tell Mumtaz they are looking for a young girl. While Anita offers up a hiding place, Lakshmi decides that she will trust them. She does not hide and begs Anita to come with her. Anita locks herself in, and Lakshmi runs to the men as they are about to leave. She is free.
Ama is Lakshmi's mother. She is thirty-one years old, and lives in poverty in Nepal with her stepfather, baby son, and daughter. Her first husband, Lakshmi's father, died and left her a widow. She then married her second husband, Lakshmi's stepfather. Ama is grateful to have a husband, even if he is lazy, loves to gamble, and does next to nothing to support the family. Ama takes charge of growing the few crops they have, primarily rice, and works hard to give her family what little they have. When Lakshmi's stepfather loses all he gained to gambling, Ama allows her daughter to leave and become what she believes is a maid in the city. After Lakshmi leaves, she does not contact Ama ever again, but for a time believes that some of the money she is earning as a prostitute is going to help her family.
American Man (I)
The first American Man hires Lakshmi in Happiness House. He does not have sex with her, but talks to her in her language. He asks her questions about her life there and asks her if she wants to leave. Though Lakshmi has doubts about him and what he is offering, she keeps his business card. Because of him, she ultimately is freed from the brothel.
American Man (II)
The second American Man is a customer that Lakshmi grabs at the door one afternoon. Like the first American man, he asks her questions about her life. He has a digital camera, takes her picture, and shows her pictures of the shelter where he can take her. He returns with the police and helps rescue her from the brothel.
Anita also works as a prostitute at the Happiness House. She has what Lakshmi calls a crooked face because the right side of her face has extensive damage due to a beating she underwent when she once ran away. Anita does not seem to care much for Lakshmi at first, but helps her on occasion, such as when she wants to give up after Shahanna is taken. Lakshmi wants to bring Anita with her to the safe place promised by the American during the raid, but Anita does not trust them and stays locked in her closet.
Auntie approaches Lakshmi at the village festival of lights and tells her that girls that live in the city have an easier life than she does. They wear beautiful clothes and jewelry, and eat rich foods. She asks if Lakshmi wants to come to the city with her, but Lakshmi ultimately refuses. When Lakshmi's stepfather sells his stepdaughter, he finds Auntie at Bajai Sita's store and arranges a deal for eight hundred rupees. Afterward she escorts Lakshmi through a number of villages, throwing pebbles at her back to make her walk faster. She then takes her on a truck to a bigger city. After a long bus ride to a bigger city near the Nepal—India border, Auntie sells her to a man Lakshmi calls Uncle Husband and Lakshmi never sees her again.
The baby is Lakshmi's baby brother, the son of her mother and, presumably, her stepfather. He suffers along with the rest of the family during the harsh dry season and long monsoon season.
The City Woman
David Beckham Boy
Gita was Lakshmi's friend in her village in Nepal. They played together until Gita left to work as a maid in the city. It is implied that she was sold by her family as Lakshmi was. As Lakshmi travels to the city, she looks for Gita, but never sees her.
Habib is the first customer Lakshmi fully services. She does so while drugged and locked in a room.
Harish is the eight-year-old son of Pushpa and Jeena's older brother. He lives at Happiness House with his mother and sister but still goes to school and plays outside. He makes some money by running errands for the girls who work there, as well as the customers, but spends most of the time his mother works flying kites on the roof. Harish is important to Lakshmi because he teaches her to read some Hindi and English, speak some words and phrases in those languages, and gives her a pencil on the day of the festival of brothers and sisters. Though she was initially jealous of his relatively ordinary life, Lakshmi becomes depressed when Pushpa and her children are forced out of the brothel, and Harish is not there for her anymore.
Hugging Man is an English-speaking customer Lakshmi services. Unlike most of her customers, he held her after having sex and allowed her to hold him. He makes Lakshmi feel special, and she longs for his return for days.
Jeena is the baby daughter of Pushpa. When Pushpa can no longer work, Mumtaz offers to buy the child and raise her to be a prostitute when she reaches the appropriate age. Pushpa refuses and allows herself to be kicked out with her children.
Krishna is the village boy, about fourteen years old, whom Lakshmi is supposed to marry in the future. She watches him on occasion before she leaves, but never marries him.
The narrator and central voice in Sold, Lakshmi is about thirteen years old when the novel begins. She lives in a small mountain village in Nepal where life is difficult, survival is not a given, and joys are few. Lakshmi lives with her mother, stepfather, and baby brother, but does not fully trust her stepfather who is lazy and does little to help the family's poor financial situation. Lakshmi wants to help her hard-working mother obtain necessities and improve the family's hut. In order to provide extra money for her family, she offers to move to a bigger city and work as a maid.
When the family's situation becomes dire after her stepfather loses everything, he decides to sell her into prostitution, though he tells her and her mother that she will be working as a maid in the city. Lakshmi does not know what is going on as she is sold to Bimla at the village store for eight hundred rupees. Passed through several hands and sold several times, Lakshmi ends up in a big coastal city in India and is forced to become a prostitute at the Happiness House brothel. Though Lakshmi fights the idea at first, she is drugged through her first weeks there and groggily submits to numerous customers. Determined to get out, she works hard to pay back her price to her owner, Mumtaz, but comes to understand that she will probably never be able to work her way out.
While living at the brothel, Lakshmi develops friendships with some of the other girls, including Shahanna who is also from Nepal, and Harish, the eight-year-old son of another prostitute. Her relationship with Harish is important, as he teaches her some Hindi and English. Because of the words that Harish has taught her, Lakshmi is able to take advantage of an American man's offer to escape the brothel. Though doubts about the American's intent linger, Lakshmi does leave Happiness House before the place destroys her. No matter what happens to her, Lakshmi sometimes stumbles but always keeps fighting.
Lakshmi's stepfather sells her into prostitution for eight hundred rupees. He is married to her mother, whom she calls Ama, and is presumably the father of her baby brother. Lakshmi's stepfather does not seem to care about his family or value women in any way. He does not work and does nothing to support the family. Lakshmi's stepfather claims he cannot find a job because he has a withered arm from a childhood accident. His primary occupation is gambling, and he rarely wins, thus draining the family's fragile finances and compelling him to sell his stepdaughter.
Monica is the most successful prostitute at Happiness House. She does everything she can to lure customers so she can pay off her debt to Mumtaz. While Monica often displays her temper to the other girls, she can also be kind on occasion. Unlike most of the prostitutes at the brothel, Monica actually pays off her debt and tries to return to her village for her daughter. Unfortunately, her family meets her on the road and begs her not to return and disgrace them. She is beaten by her father and learns that her daughter has been told that she is dead. Monica returns to Happiness House and works as a prostitute again but is later kicked out because she develops a virus (probably AIDS).
Mumtaz is the operator of Happiness House, the brothel to which Lakshmi is sold. Mumtaz buys Lakshmi from Uncle Husband for ten thousand rupees, though she later lies to Lakshmi that she paid twenty thousand. The obese Mumtaz runs her business with a heavy
hand, keeping the girls in line with physical violence. She ensures that the girls are always indebted to her; they can never be free until she throws them out when they are sick or no longer of use to her. Mumtaz is beyond angry at the end of the novel when Lakshmi is rescued by the Americans and sympathetic policemen.
Pushpa is a prostitute at Happiness House who shares a room with Lakshmi. She and her two children live there because her husband died, and she had no other way to support her family. Pushpa is sick with what is called the coughing disease (probably tuberculosis). Because of her illness, she and her children are eventually put out of Happiness House.
Shahanna is another prostitute at the Happiness House. Like Lakshmi, she is from Nepal. She helps Lakshmi adjust to life in the brothel as best she can. When the police raid the Happiness House after Mumtaz falls behind on bribe payments, Shahanna is taken away—presumably beaten and perhaps killed—and Lakshmi never sees her again.
Shilpa works as a prostitute at the Happiness House and is Mumtaz's spy. Her mother was also a prostitute and thus she was raised in a brothel. Knowing no other life, she joined the family business at an early age. Shilpa watches out for Mumtaz's interests and regularly speaks for Mumtaz to the other girls.
Bajai Sita is an old trader woman who operates a post in the village and has what Lakshmi calls a “little lizard face.” Lakshmi's stepfather sells the cucumbers Lakshmi has been carefully raising to Bajai, and Ama sells the family's hens and chicks to her when her husband disappears for over a week. Later, when the family's financial situation grows dire, Lakshmi's stepfather arranges to sell Lakshmi to the city woman at Bajai Sita's store. Bajai Sita is the one who gives him the sale price.
The Street Boy
The street boy is a vendor of tea and other drinks who comes to the brothel on a regular basis to sell his wares. He is one of the only visitors to the Happiness House during the day. The street boy is also from Nepal and tries to engage Lakshmi in conversation on several occasions. Unlike most of the other girls, she does not buy anything from him. Later, when she is depressed, he gives her teas and a Coca-Cola for free. He loses his job for shorting funds to his boss, but before he leaves, Lakshmi is able to slip him the business card of the American who ultimately has her rescued from the brothel.
Tali is Lakshmi's goat, whom Lakshmi seems to think is a person sometimes. Lakshmi is very attached to the animal, who follows her around.
Uncle Husband is the man who buys Lakshmi from Auntie at a city in Nepal near the border with India. He tells her to call him her husband when they cross the border, though he also tells her that he is her uncle. While Lakshmi is initially scared of him, he gives her food and sweets during their journey and treats her relatively well. After they cross the border, he takes her to a big coastal city in India and sells her to Mumtaz at the Happiness House. Lakshmi never sees him again.
Sex Trafficking and Its Consequences
The primary idea explored in Sold is how the sex trade affects the girls and women who become caught up in it. McCormick zeroes in on the practice of young girls from Nepal being sold into prostitution in India, but also includes information on Indian women who are compelled to work at the same brothels for a variety of reasons. Through the story of Lakshmi, who just wants to help her family live a better life, the author shows how her primary character is used and abused by those who have bought her and forced her to become a prostitute. Sold does not make clear if Lakshmi's stepfather knows her true fate, but it is very apparent that he does not care. While Lakshmi and her mother believe that she is going to become a rich woman's maid in the city, the young girl learns when she reaches the Happiness House that her fate is very different.
McCormick includes many details of the life Lakshmi lives as a prostitute in the brothel. When the young girl realizes what is expected of her at Happiness House, she refuses to give in for quite some time. It is only when Lakshmi is drugged that she has sex with a customer for the first time. After she is sold as a virgin for some time, Lakshmi works harder as a prostitute to try and pay off her debt to Mumtaz so she can be free. Lakshmi later learns that Mumtaz fudges numbers and she will probably never be able to pay off her debt. The young girl most likely will not be freed before she is thrown out for being sick. Lakshmi loses part of herself in the process, but remains determined to escape.
Through Lakshmi's conversations with the other girls at Happiness House, additional aspects and consequences of the sex trade are illustrated. For example, Monica is one of the few girls who earn their way out of the brothel, only to return because her family rejects her. She is informed that her daughter has been told she is dead. She has no other place to go but the brothel. Monica is later thrown out of Happiness House when she develops a disease that is implied to be AIDS. Another character, Pushpa, is also sick with what is implied to be tuberculosis. A widow with two children, she has no other way to support her family. Pushpa works when she is well, though her illness ultimately leads to the end of her time at Happiness House. The depiction of Pushpa's son and daughter shows how children who are born to these women live and are raised in this environment.
There are organizations to help the women and girls who work in such brothels, and McCormick includes this information as well. Harish, Pushpa's eight-year-old son, goes to a class on Saturdays taught by Americans, where he learns English. While the prostitutes have been told that Americans and other rescue groups want to humiliate, if not harm them, several Americans reach out to Lakshmi to try and help her get out. Lakshmi does not trust them at first, but decides by the end of the novel to use them to be free of Happiness House. The book ends on this positive note, a moment of joy after much despair.
Importance of Personal Relationships
Throughout the text of Sold, McCormick repeatedly underscores how important personal relationships are. Lakshmi is portrayed as being close to her mother, Ama, to her brother, and to Tali, her goat. She is willing to leave her mountain village to better their lives. When Lakshmi is compelled to become a prostitute, one of her primary motivations to keep working is her belief that money is being sent back to her family. Lakshmi later learns this is not true and becomes depressed.
Despite the dire conditions at Happiness House, many of the girls form a bond and help each other. Shahanna, who is also from Nepal, helps Lakshmi adjust to her situation and takes care of her as needed. Though Monica is initially cold toward Lakshmi, Monica gives her a rag doll to help ease the pain of the loss of Harish. After Shahanna is taken in a police raid, Anita compels Lakshmi to get out of her depressive stupor.
Also important to Lakshmi is her aforementioned friendship with Harish. The boy teaches her some Hindi and English, and she is moved to tears when he gives her a pencil. Because he is allowed to go to school and to go outside and play, Lakshmi lives vicariously through him. Lakshmi develops a similarly positive relationship with the street vendor boy who gives her tea and ultimately helps her escape. The variety of positive relationships depicted in Sold illustrates the necessity of human interaction and celebrates the importance of kindness and understanding.
Bravery and Strength
Another underlying theme of Sold is the concept of bravery and strength. Lakshmi repeatedly demonstrates those qualities both during the time she is living with her family in Nepal and in the depths of her despair in Happiness House. On the first page of the novel she states her desire to help her mother by working in the city as a maid, so they can have a tin roof. Lakshmi shows no fear, only discomfort, when she finally gets her chance to help. As she is taken from her village to India first by Auntie Bimla then by Uncle Husband, Lakshmi continues to live through new experiences with strength and inquisitiveness instead of panic.
Even as she reaches Happiness House, Lakshmi shows her tenacity by refusing for days to give in and allow herself to be used sexually by Mumtaz's customers. After Lakshmi is drugged and essentially forced to have sex, she accepts the situation but tries her best to devise a way out. Though the rest of the girls are fearful of Americans who promise to help rescue them, Lakshmi takes the chance that saves her life, and she is freed from Mumtaz's grip. Lakshmi's bravery and fortitude show it is possible to be strong in the face of unthinkable horrors.
The text of Sold is organized into brief chapters that can be considered vignettes. A vignette is a short scene, often impressionistic and dealing with a single moment or brief period of time. Vignettes are usually descriptive and focused. In the novel, the vignettes reflect the fragmented and fractured nature of Lakshmi's experience—from living on a mountain in Nepal, to traveling to India with strangers and being forced to work as a prostitute in a brothel in a large Indian city. Some of the vignettes display Lakshmi's knowledge of life. A vignette titled “Calendar,” for example, describes the yearly cycle of women's work and its relationship to weather in her village. Other vignettes, like “Maybe” and “Something for the David Beckham Boy,” offer scenes from her life. While a few, like “Too Much of a Good Thing” and “Seeing a Girl with a Long Black Braid,” are only a few lines, others, like “Cup of Tea” and “Sold,” extend through several pages. By using vignettes to tell Lakshmi's story, the novel has an unexpected power.
Many critics believe that the vignettes in Sold are poems written in free verse. Free verse poems do not rhyme, have no regular meter, lack a fixed pattern, and often reflect regular speech. While McCormick's text is usually narrative in nature while being poetic (as in “Punishment”), some chapters more obviously than others are written as poems. Embedded in “Strange Music” for example, is an impression of the dripping water in the family hut and Lakshmi's baby brother's joyful reaction to the sounds of the drops. In “Next,” Lakshmi lists what she views from the truck as she sees a city for the first time. By using a free verse, poetic style in her text, Sold demonstrates McCormick's control of language.
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Watch a film on the sex trade or sex trafficking such as Ruchira Gupta's documentary The Selling of Innocents. Write a paper in which you compare and contrast the film to the novel Sold.
- Research the sex trafficking of girls in other locales other than India (such as girls trafficked from Mexico into the United States, for example). Create a presentation in which you compare their experiences to what is depicted in Sold.
- Break up into groups and create a work of art in any genre that reflects an aspect of the book. How do you turn an idea of Sold into a physical object? As you work in your group, discuss how the book affected each of you, and incorporate each person's ideas into the artwork.
- Consider the story from the point of view of a male character like Lakshmi's stepfather, Uncle Husband, Krishna, or a customer at Happiness House. After doing research into how males of this culture view women, write a story or nonfiction account of how they would perceive what happens to her.
Voice/First Person Point of View
Sold is told from a first person point of view. The only voice that readers hear is Lakshmi's. All her experiences are filtered through her perspective. The words of the text reflect her thoughts, feelings, and impressions. While this writing makes Lakshmi deep, rich, and alive, it also limits the readers' understanding of other characters. For example, readers see Ama only as Lakshmi's hardworking mother, while they are compelled to regard her stepfather only as irresponsible, lazy, and selfish. McCormick allows the reader to see past Lakshmi's limited understanding as needed. For example, Lakshmi regards Uncle Husband primarily as her protector, but she also notes that when they reach the city he “presses his fist in my back to make me go faster.” Overall, using the first person point of view is an effective means of depicting how being sold in the sex trade in India affects one girl, giving her story immediacy and power.
The fictional story in Sold is based on factual information. As McCormick reminds readers in her “Author's Note” at the end of the novel, “Every year, nearly 12,000 Nepali girls are sold by their families, intentionally or unwittingly, into a life of sexual slavery in the brothels of India.” She goes on to say this situation is not limited to India and Nepal. The U.S. State Department believes that, as of 2006, about 500,000 children worldwide are trafficked across national borders into the sex trade.
UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) puts the number as high as 1.2 million annually, and also notes that two million children are working in the commercial sex trade worldwide. There are even more children exploited in the sex trade within their country's borders. The San Francisco Chronicle estimated in 2006 that sex trafficking is an $8 billion a year international business, and International Justice Mission reports that the U.S. State Department considers human trafficking the third largest criminal enterprise behind drugs and weapons.
Sold touches particularly on the dire situation in Nepal in the early 2000s. Some villages have few teenage girls because most have been sold into the sex trade. Many want to help their families escape poverty and believe they will be working as laborers in a city while others are sold because women are not highly regarded by the men in their culture. Nepali girls are primarily trafficked to India, though some are sold to commercial sex establishments in Pakistan as well. In 2007, the Indian government estimated that 90 percent of India's sex trafficking comes from within their borders, including both the sex trade and forced marriage. Despite the high numbers of people trafficked, there were only twenty-seven convictions for trafficking in all of India in 2006.
There are other places where children, primarily girls, are regularly trafficked into other countries for the sex trade and other uses. Though some children from West and Central African countries are exploited for their labor in homes, shops, and farms, they are also sent into sexual slavery in other African countries, the Middle East, Europe, and to the United States. Marie Claire reported that it is believed that 200,000 women and children were trafficked into sexual slavery in the former Yugoslavia in 2004. The area's commercial sex trade blossomed after the end of the Bosnian War (1992–1995).
Children are trafficked into the United States as well. According to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2006, the U.S. State Department believed that 14,500 to 17,500 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked into the United States from Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union, and South America. An undetermined number of those trafficked are used in the sex industry—especially in California, New York, Texas, and Las Vegas—while some of the children are illegally adopted. UNICEF believes that up to fifteen hundred babies and children from Guatemala are sent to Europe and North America to be illegally adopted each year.
Those trafficked into the United States are protected by the Trafficking Victims Act of 2000, which prosecutes those involved in human trafficking for labor and the sex trade. Within five years, 131 cases were investigated with 120 convictions. A vast majority—99—were sex traffickers. There is also a significant amount of internal trafficking of people within the United States. There are many groups in the United States that help the victims of this crime, one of which is Shared Hope International.
There are also many other places in the world where children are not trafficked but still are forced into prostitution. For example, thousands of young girls in Lithuania and Mexico work as prostitutes, according to UNICEF. In Lithuania, up to 50 percent of prostitutes are minors and some are as young as eleven years old. Children in orphanages are often used in pornography as well. Mexican authorities believe that sixteen thousand children work as prostitutes, primarily in tourist areas. Thus, Sold brings to light a multi-faceted industry that uses and abuses women and children.
When Sold was published in 2006, critics nearly universally praised the book for its power and the believable yet endearing main character, Lakshmi. Christine M. Heppermann, writing in The Horn Book Magazine, calls it a “searing novel” and notes that “readers will admire Lakshmi's bravery.” The Detroit Free Press's Cassandra Spratling believes that Sold “is, by far, one of the most gripping, gut-wrenching novels for young adults I've come across in a long time.”
A number of critics commented on the language of Sold, especially as the novel is about the sex trade yet targeted at middle and high school-aged readers. In Time, Andrea Sachs notes that “While the book is blunt, it is never sensational.” Sachs also comments that “McCormick's talent lies in rendering stark facts vividly but not melodramatically.”
Others focused on the vignettes and poetic language McCormick uses in the text. Spratling in the Detroit Free Press comments that “McCormick's writing and the rhythm of the prose make the book all the more mesmerizing,” while Joyce Adams Burner in Curriculum Connection notes “Sold is written in extraordinary, stark free verse hellip;which lays out the grim realities of Lakshmi's life without sensationalizing.” Even critics who did not like this style of literature appreciated McCormick's creative choices. In the Kalamazoo Gazette, Joyce Pines writes, “Although I'm generally not fond of books written in verse, author Patricia McCormick uses this style powerfully.”
Many critics believed the novel touched on many ideas effectively. Reviewing the novel in the Sacramento Bee, Judy Green notes that “the story evolves with compassion, humor and tragedy.” She goes on to say that “Lakshmi's physical world pulses with authenticity, from the quiet rhythm of farm life to bedlam in city streets,” and she believes that, “This powerful story will linger long after the last page.” Similarly Kate Larking in the Calgary Herald concludes,“Sold is a masterpiece that raises awareness about a world few know about and many ignore.”
Petruso is a writer with degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of Texas. In this essay, Petruso explores the concept of family in Sold.
Throughout Sold, Patricia McCormick stresses thirteen-year-old Lakshmi's sense of family, and describes how this sense of family defines her world. In addition to her real family in Nepal, Lakshmi calls the first woman who buys her, Bimla, her Auntie, and the man who then buys her from Bimla, Uncle Husband. When Lakshmi ends up at Happiness House, she initially calls Mumtaz Auntie as well. While Lakshmi regards such authority figures as family-type protectors because of her young age and naivete, the sentiment she feels is real but complex and changes over the course of the book. She also forms bonds with many of the girls at the brothel as well as Harish, the eight-year-old son of another prostitute there, but they are not familial in the same way. At the novel's end, it is clear that Lakshmi may not be going back to Nepal, but perhaps she will find a new family with the other rescued former prostitutes.
The first chapters of Sold take place in Nepal and offer examples of close, positive familial relationships as well as define poor family leadership. Family is important to Lakshmi; she wants to do anything she can to help her mother, whom she calls Ama, and her baby brother. From the first, it is clear that Lakshmi holds Ama in high regard and aids her mother with her hard labors to keep the impoverished family going. Lakshmi compares her mother to the mountain goddess who watches over them and believes her mother is superior in grace. McCormick writes in “Something Beautiful,” first about the goddess, saying “she is beautiful, mighty, and magnificent,” then continues about Lakshmi's mother: “But my ama…is, to me, more lovely.”
Ama and her daughter are deeply bonded, a fact McCormick emphasizes over and over again. In “Everything I Need to Know,” Lakshmi listens carefully to what her mother says about the rules of life now that Lakshmi has reached maturity and had her first menstrual period. In “Making Do,” Lakshmi describes how they clean the family's cooking vessels together during the dry season. In “What Is Missing,” Lakshmi mentions in passing that they both carry water jugs and go to the spring together to get water for their rice plants. “Maybe” shows their true closeness as Ama makes popcorn for Lakshmi from maize she has carefully hidden from her husband and smokes one of his cigarettes that she has lifted from him. One of the few chapters of joy, “Maybe” shows how close mother and daughter are even in their daydreams.
In contrast to Ama is Lakshmi's stepfather, whose name is never given, emphasizing how little she values him. Lakshmi is very critical of her stepfather from the first chapter, “A Tin Roof.” McCormick writes in Lakshmi's voice in that vignette, “A tin roof means that the family has a father who doesn't gamble away the landlord's money playing cards in the tea shop.” Later, in “The Difference Between a Son and a Daughter,” Lakshmi emphasizes her dislike of him by noting that “I act the part of the dutiful daughter” and “I pretend I do not hear him joining in the laughter….” Verbs like “act” and “pretend” emphasize her feelings on the matter, and she continues in this vein about him throughout the text.
Lakshmi is also keenly aware that her stepfather does not regard her highly either. In “A Tin Roof,” Ama tells her that she must stay in school even though her stepfather does not want her there instead of working elsewhere to support the family. In the same chapter, Lakshmi reveals that her stepfather has been looking at her as merchandise like the cucumbers she is carefully raising. Later in “The Difference Between a Son and a Daughter,” Lakshmi reports that she hears him sharing in the laughter with the men at the tea shop over how little daughters are valued.
Lakshmi compares her stepfather to her friend Gita's father, and she believes her stepfather is not the man that Gita's father is. In “A Bitter Harvest,” Lakshmi reports that Gita's father built paddy walls to ensure the family's crops would not wash away during a monsoon. It saves the rice plants while Lakshmi's family loses all of theirs because her stepfather does not labor or do anything to help the family gain income except gamble—and he usually loses. Yet it is implied that Gita's father sold her as well. Lakshmi thinks Gita is working in the city as a maid, as she reveals in “Before Gita Left,” but after Gita went away, the family gained many material possessions like new glasses, a wedding dress, and pots, as well as paid school fees for her brother. Gita's father may be more industrious and balanced in how he treats his family compared to Lakshmi's stepfather, but he probably sold his daughter into sexual slavery all the same.
Unlike Gita's father, Lakshmi's stepfather's many failures compel him to sell her. After their rice plants are lost, he disappears for over a week, and then returns triumphant from his gambling with city clothes and a motorcycle. He then loses all he has gained in yet another card game at the tea shop. Lakshmi has wanted to help her mother by working as a maid in the city for a rich woman, but only when her stepfather loses his possessions does he, too, decide she should go to the city. Her mother finally gives in to the idea. Lakshmi, however, has no idea that she is being trafficked to become a sex slave; she only cares that she is helping her Ama and baby brother. After her stepfather sells her, Lakshmi still thinks about them and insists that he uses part of the money he received to buy a sweater and a bottle of Coca-Cola for Ama and a jacket for the baby. She is ready to work hard to ensure they get even more, including the much-needed tin roof.
After “A Trade,” Lakshmi never sees her real family again. However, she creates other familial relationships with the adults who transport her to India to work in the sex trade as well as at the Happiness House brothel. Bajai Sita, the village trader woman who works with the city woman, named Bimla, establishes this idea in “A Trade.” Bajai Sita admonishes Lakshmi to behave by saying “Your family will get nothing, not one rupee, if you do not obey your new auntie.” After that point, Lakshmi calls Bimla Auntie, showing how the woman has some familial authority over her. When Bimla sells her to a man to cross the border from Nepal to India, that authority is transferred to him as he tells Lakshmi that he is her uncle in “Uncle Husband.” He also must be called her husband, he tells her in the same chapter. Lakshmi calls him Uncle Husband after he explains he must pretend to be her husband to get across the border.
Both Bimla and Uncle Husband do not treat her particularly well—though Uncle Husband feeds her better than Bimla—and both regard her as a piece of merchandise, like an animal that must be herded and hurried to reach their destination. In “Moving Forward,” Bimla throws pebbles at Lakshmi to keep her moving, while in “Walking in the City,” Lakshmi reports Uncle Husband hurries her up by putting his fist in her back. Though she states that she is a bit afraid of both Bimla and Uncle Husband, Lakshmi respects them as familial-type authority figures and does not run away as she believes she really will be working as a rich woman's domestic. Uncle Husband is even seen as a protector, as she states in “Crossing the Border.” Lakshmi regards her journey with them as an adventure and relies on them for information and guidance, though she does not always get it as “Questions and Answers” demonstrates. The familial relationships Lakshmi forms with them are tenuous at best and the result of necessity more than bonding.
After Uncle Husband takes her to a coastal Indian city, he sells her to Mumtaz, the operator of the Happiness House. Uncle Husband tries to transfer his familial authority to Mumtaz by telling Lakshmi to call her Auntie Mumtaz. It is telling, however, that the honorific is quickly dropped after Lakshmi hears the other girls at the brothel simply call her Mumtaz in “A City Girl.” In the next chapter, “Old Man,” Lakshmi continues to call her Mumtaz as the woman tries to get the girl to have sex with her first customer. As Lakshmi realizes what her situation has become, there are no familial titles anymore. Mumtaz is no longer her Auntie but her captor, except for one brief moment. Lakshmi says “I love her like a mother” when Mumtaz gives her medicine when she grows sick in “The Cost of a Cure,” but this feeling quickly disperses as Mumtaz charges her for the kindness.
At Happiness House, Lakshmi does not give any of the other prostitutes any familial titles such as sister or auntie, even in the case of Pushpa, who is older and a mother. While Lakshmi grows close to some of the other girls, especially Shahanna who is also from Nepal, there is more distance and a sense of self-preservation amidst the limited but necessary bonding and shared caring when compared to her mother and her memories of her friendship with Gita. Each of the girls, including Lakshmi, just wants to survive this ordeal and leave before they have nothing left to live for.
When Shahanna explains to Lakshmi why the prostitutes are allowed to have babies there, her explanation sums up nearly all the relationships in the Happiness House: “We all need to pretend. If we did not pretend, how would we live?” The only moment that is close to true familial bonding for Lakshmi comes in “A Gift” when Harish, Pushpa's eight-year-old son, gives Lakshmi a pencil on the day of the festival of brothers and sisters. This gesture implies that he sees her as a sister, just like his baby sister Jeena, as they have grown close when Harish teaches her to read and speak some Hindi and English.
The concept of family, however, does appear regularly and is important in Sold's brothel scenes. When Lakshmi is locked in the room after she refuses to be with her first customer, she notices mothers and children from her window in “Three Days and Three Nights.” In the same chapter, she reports dreaming of her own mother and being next to her. Lakshmi occasionally thinks of her mother and life on the mountain in Nepal during her time in the brothel. However, Lakshmi only cares about her family until it is clear they are not benefiting from her work. She also reports that when Monica tries to return to her village and her daughter after paying off her debt, her family rejects her. Monica goes back to working at Happiness House until Mumtaz kicks her out for becoming ill. Lakshmi does not know what to make of this story as it is being told in “The Living Dead,” and the idea of family, especially Lakshmi's family, is not mentioned again until “Revelation,” when she learns that none of her money is being sent home.
While Lakshmi is somewhat bonded to her fellow prostitutes, she holds no feelings for her customers and gives them no titles and usually no names. Because of the way she is being used, she trusts no adult man, not even the Americans who want to help her escape nor the one customer who holds her in “An Accidental Kindness.” Lakshmi even distrusts the street vendor boy who tries to show kindness to her. She does bond with him slightly, however, by asking him to carry the American's business card to help her be rescued when she sees that this might be the only way to get out of her situation. Lakshmi might find family again as the second American shows her digital pictures of the other girls the Americans have helped. This American, in “Believing,” also tells her that “I will come back with other men, good men, from this country—fathers and uncles who want to help….” Though Lakshmi does not use the familial names, the power of family helps her believe in him and what he is offering.
Lakshmi's story ends in “The Words Harish Taught Me” with a moment of trust. She allows herself to be rescued and to have a chance to find a new family even if she cannot go back to her biological one. In that moment, her mother's statement about women and work spoken at the end of the first chapter entitled “Everything I Need to Know” becomes imbued with a deeper meaning. Quoting Lakshmi's mother, McCormick writes “Simply to endure is to triumph.”
Source: A. Petruso, Critical Essay on Sold, in Literary Newsmakers for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009.
In the following excerpt, Hoffman praises the book as a powerful example of “problem” literature.
One of the afflictions of young-adult literature, against which I've railed often, is the proliferation of “problem” books. These appear to be generated from lists of not-yet-covered physical, social and emotional maladies, everything from scoliosis to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
But every once in a while a problem book appears whose execution is so powerful that it transcends the limitations of the genre, one in which attention to the issue at hand is accompanied by attention to language and character, the essential elements of good literature.
Sold by Patricia McCormick (Hyperion, 263 pp. $15.99) is just such an exception. The author begins with the State Department's estimate that more than half a million children are sold into the sex trade annually and makes that cold number a reality for the reader by focusing a laser beam on the life of a single child, just as Anne Frank brought the Holocaust out of the anonymous universe of the 6 million and into our hearts.
Lakshmi is a 12-year-old Nepalese girl who has never been out of her village or off her mountain. She, her mother, her baby sister Tali and her stepfather live under the crushing weight of poverty. Every season brings new challenges to survival and more deaths of fragile young children.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
- Cut, published in 2000, is McCormick's first novel for young adult readers. It focuses on the phenomenon of cutting to relieve emotional pain through the story of Callie, a teenage girl who believes she is responsible for her brother's illness.
- Speak, a young adult novel by Laurie Halse Anderson published in 2006, focuses on the feelings of high school freshman Melinda Sordino. In addition to dealing with typical beginning-of-school issues, she is nearly mute after being raped by a senior at a summer party.
- My Brother's Keeper, published in 2005, is McCormick's second novel for young adult readers. The novel focuses on Toby Malone, his two brothers, and mother, and how they deal with problems like substance abuse and depression after the father abandons the family.
- Sex Trafficking: The Global Market in Women and Children, written by Kathryn Farr and published in 2004, is a nonfiction study of the sex trade worldwide. The author includes information about victims, traffickers, industry structure, and how militaries create demand.
- Inexcusable, written by Chris Lynch and published in 2005, is a young adult novel that focuses on a character, Keir, whose life is out of control as he struggles with his self-image. Among other things, he date rapes a girl whom he thinks he loves.
- Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, published in 2007, is a memoir by Greg Mortensen written with the help of David Oliver Relin. In it he recounts his experiences as the founder of Central Asia Institute. After trying to climb K2, he spent seven weeks in Korphe, Pakistan, and later returned to the village to build its first school.
Yet there is a beauty to their worlds that Lakshmi (whose mother has managed, against all odds, to keep in school) is able to articulate, with a bit of help from the author:
In the evening, the brilliant yellow pumpkin blossoms will close, drunk on sunshine, while the milky white jasmine will open their slender throats and sip the chill Himalayan air.
Lakshmi dreams of her future marriage to Krishna, a young herder, and tends to her tiny patch of cucumbers, while her lazy, gambling stepfather has other plans for her. He sells her to a middleman/woman who maintains the fiction that the girl is going to the city to work as a servant for a rich family and will be able to send money home to make life easier for her family.
After a dizzying journey on foot, by truck, bus and train, each opening onto a new and increasingly frightening world, Lakshmi is passed from hand to greedy hand until she lands in a Calcutta brothel, ruled over with merciless absoluteness by Mumtaz, its vicious madam.
Once it's clear to Lakshmi the trap she has fallen into and what is expected of her, she makes a brave attempt to resist but is finally drawn into a sordid world of helpless and hopeless young women. They have come to the realization they will never succeed in repaying their debts to Mumtaz and are doomed to sell their bodies until they are no longer desired, at which point they will be tossed out with the trash.
There are a few rare bright spots in this cesspool of corruption, where even the police are exploiters. One is Harish, the 8-year-old son of one of the prostitutes, who has made a life for himself exactly like those portrayed in a recent stunning documentary, Born to Brothels, in
which we see children seeking normality under the most abnormal of circumstances. He shares with Lakshmi his most prized possession, a book, from which he crafts some rudimentary lessons for her in Hindi and in English.
Although Lakshmi's fate is happier than most victims of sex trafficking, McCormick, who has done her homework in Nepal and India, does an impressive job of putting a face on one of the cruelest forms of human exploitation on the planet. By telling the story in short chapters, many of which are cast in poem form, she brings home to the reader an ongoing human tragedy in a way that statistics could not match.
Source: Marvin Hoffman, “Exploiting Children,” in Houston Chronicle, December 31, 2006, p. 19.
In the following review, Rosser finds the book well-written and compelling.
To prepare to write this novel (in poetry format), McCormick traveled to Nepal and India to interview prostitutes in brothels and also girls who have been rescued from the sex trade. In her note at the end of the story she says, “Each year, nearly 12,000 Nepali girls are sold by their families—intentionally or unwittingly—to a life of sexual slavery in the brothels of India. Worldwide, the US State Department estimates that nearly half a million children are trafficked into the sex trade each year.”
Sold is the story of one young Nepali girl who is sold by her stepfather into prostitution. She is 14-years-old when she is rescued by some Americans who visit brothels in India to find young girls who want to escape. Lakshmi is the narrator. She is a young village girl with a loving mother, baby brother, and greedy stepfather in Nepal, where such girls and women in general know no other way than to obey the men in their family. Soon after she gets her first period, her stepfather starts looking at her as a thing to sell for a profit, not as a human being.
In the narrative, McCormick details how the cruel system works, with naive girls believing they are going to get jobs as maids to send money to their family. They end up in brothels with no way to escape. The life in the brothels is described in some detail, from the beatings and the drugging of innocent young girls to force them to submit to men, to the dubious joy of TV and babies, to the way some few girls are being rescued. It's frightening—most girls become diseased, dying young of AIDS. The men who pay the brothel owners to sleep with the girls are not required to wear condoms, and the girls have no power to protect themselves. This is an important story, and McCormick tells it well. The cover, a photograph of the face of a young girl, is compelling.
Source: Claire Rossier, “Sold,” in Kliatt, September 2006, p. 15.
Burner, Joyce Adams, “Bring It On Home; Teens and the Real World,” Curriculum Connection, April 1, 2007, p. 22.
Green, Judy, “From shame, some dignity,” Sacramento Bee, October 1, 2006, p. 22.
Heppermann, Christine, “Review of Sold,” The Horn Book Magazine, September–October 2006, p. 591.
Larking, Kate, “Intensity sells Sold,” Calgary Herald, February 18, 2007, p. C3.
McCormick, Patricia, “Letter from the Author,” Amnesty International USA Human Rights Education, http://www.amnestyusa.org/Article_26_Newsletter/August_2006_Issue_2/ (August 2006).
McCormick, Sold, Hyperion, 2006.
Spratling, Cassandra, “Free Press Book Club for Kids: High School: Writing Propels Harrowing Tales,” Detroit Free Press, November 3, 2006, p. 22.
Tropper, Jonathan, “Everything Changes,” Kalamazoo Gazette, December 30, 2006, p. 22.
Batstone, David, Not for Sale: The Return of Global Slave Trade—and How We Can Fight It, HarperOne, 2007.
This nonfiction book by an award-winning journalist describes how twenty-first century activists are working to end human bondage worldwide.
Bechard, Raymond, Unspeakable: The Hidden Truth Behind the World's Fastest Growing Crime, Compel Publishing, 2006.
This nonfiction work describes the reality of sex trafficking, its effect on victims, and the fight to end the ever increasing phenomenon.
L'Anson, Richard, with Peter Hillary, Nepal, Lonely Planet Publications, 2007.
This pictorial book about Nepal offers numerous images of the country and its breathtaking landscapes.
Luce, Edward, In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India, Doubleday, 2007.
Luce provides a contemporary history of India, including its economy, social and political system, consumer culture, and direction in the future.
Upadhyay, Samrat, Arresting God in Kathmandu, Mariner Books, 2001.
This is a collection of short stories by one of the first Nepali authors writing in English and published in the West. The nine stories cover many aspects of Nepali society.