NITTY GRITTY DETAILS
- Title: Sold
- Author: Patricia McCormick
- Illustrator: None
- Awards: ALA Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults, National Book Award Finalist, National Public Radio – Top 100 Books of the Year, Book Sense Pick, California Young Reader Medal, Quill Award, Gustav-Heinemann-Peace Prize
An activist as well as an author, Patricia McCormick creates stories that shake readers and connect with them at a visceral level. Refusing to filter the harsh realities of the world, McCormick has written about a teenager who struggles with self-injury (Cut), teenage addiction (My Brother’s Keeper), a soldier’s haunting kill (Purple Heart), the Cambodian genocide (Never Fall Down), and child sex slaves (Sold). Her website at https://patriciamccormick.com/ reads like an advocacy website with links and resources to help people learn more about the abovementioned topics; for example, under her “Child Trafficking” heading she has the following links: Amnesty International, Didi Project, End Child Prostitution and Trafficking, Maiti Nepal, Save the Daughters, and Vital Voices.
This is a powerful video of her discussing Sold, her research process, her own experience as a sexual assault survivor, and the characters that she created:
It is easy to miss her biography and books when looking through her website! Born in the suburbs McCormick expresses that she felt a sense of isolation from the sameness of her surroundings and pulled from that experience for her first novel, Cut. McCormick provides “Book Guides” for each of her books which provide a summary, book questions, and Q & A with her about that specific book. She also has a wonderful podcast where she and the interviewer discuss “how facts can enhance fiction, how research can be used to render a more complex fictional story, and how the careful use of language can elevate the telling of a real experience”: http://www.readwritethink.org/parent-afterschool-resources/podcast-episodes/conversation-with-patricia-mccormick-30947.html
Cutting with its brutal details and sharp clarity, Sold is the story of Lakshmi, an impoverished thirteen-year-old Nepalese child, who is sold into sex-trafficking by her step-father. Written in chapter long vignettes, the exposition reveals a brave, curious girl who would do anything for her mother. “But my ama, with her crow-black hair braided with bigs of red rags and beads, her cinnamon skin, and her ears hung with the joyful noise of tinkling gold, is, to me, more lovely. And her slender back, which bears our troubles – and all our hopes – is more beautiful still” (7). Focusing on educating the reader about the life of the female population in her community, Lakshmi’s voice humbly describes how far below men women and girls are viewed by their male counterparts, even lower than the goats the women and girls take care of.
“Why,” I say, “must women suffer so?”
“This has always been our fate,” she says.
“Simply to endure,” she says, “is to triumph” (16).
As Lakshmi and Ama, her mother, work from dawn until dusk to save their few possessions while Lakshmi’s stepfather spends time gambling away any potential they have for a lighter, brighter future, Lakshmi watches the boy she is betrothed to: Krishna. Dreaming of a day where she is his wife and able to leave her stepfather behind, Lakshmi works tirelessly to care for her goat, her cucumbers, but most of all, she works endlessly for her Ama. It is this devotion to her mother and drive to help her have a better life that blinds her to her stepfather’s dastardly ways.
Despite her childhood, Lakshmi is able to maintain an innocence, sweetness, and goodness, all of which is taken advantage of by her stepfather as he sells her into sex-trafficking under the guise that she is going to leave their small village to work in the city as a maid.
“This is good news, Ama,” I say, my voice filled full of a boldness I did not know I had. “There will be one less mouth to feed here, and I will send my wages home” (49).
Revealing how quickly a child is isolated from what they know, the author thrusts Lakshmi into the arms of a strange woman, a strange man, crosses the border from Nepal into India with its different language and customs, and leaves Lakshmi with Mumtaz, the owner of Happiness House, a brothel. Unaware of the implications of all off these changes, Lakshmi’s reality of being a sex slave is brutally revealed:
“I look down at my red-painted nails and my new shoes. Something is not right here. I don’t know what is going on, but it is not right, not right at all.
…And then he is on top of me, holding me down with the strength of ten men. He kisses me with lips that are slack and wet and taste of onions. His teeth dig into my lower lip.
Underneath the weight of him, I cannot see or move or breathe. He fumbles with his pants, forces my legs apart, and I can feel him pushing himself between my thighs…” (103).
Lakshmi escapes before the assault can continue; however, she can’t stop Mumtaz from drugging her, locking her in a room, and then allowing an untold number of men to rape her.
The rest of the novel continues to take the reader through Lakshmi’s loss of innocence as she watches the other girls in the brothel be kicked onto the streets, refuses to help others in a way she never would have in her village, and pulls into herself. Believing that she can work off the debt that Mumtaz has convinced her she owes, Lakshmi desperately tries to do whatever she can under the mistaken belief that she can someday go home:
“Here at Happiness House,
There are dirty men,
I will be with them all.
Any man, every man.
I will do whatever it takes to get out of here” (227).
Finally realizing that Mumtaz will only let her go when she is too sick to work, Lakshmi takes a risk and trusts an American man who comes and tells her he can take her away from the brothel and help her. The novel ends with a cliffhanger as Lakshmi is taken away from the brothel by an American man, Indian men, and an American lady, leaving the reader hopeful that she will be able to escape but also leary that this was simply a trick to get her into another brothel.
- Contemporary Realistic Fiction
McCormick is a true wordsmith, so much so that the reader may wish she was a bit less wonderful with her craft due to the reality of the story. She uses foreshadowing (62), repetition (65), similes (74), imagery (throughout), and vignettes (the entire novel) to bring Lakshmi’s story to life.
TEACHING & LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
As a high school novel, Sold is a powerful example of the need for advocacy and how the written word can both educate and motivate. In addition to the writing lessons mentioned in the “Author’s Language,” this book uses setting like a weapon as Lakshmi’s isolated village keeps her ignorant while the city violates and steals her innocence.
Voice, advocacy, and broadening one’s worldview is a lifelong journey, and Sold is both an inspiration and a partner for that journey. Additionally, this novel, when paired with the interview of the author about how she researched for the book, provides a tangible example of how one’s curiosity and desire to help can be funneled into a force for change. Our world needs more moral agents of change, and this book demands to do just that.
WORDS OF CAUTION
There are many triggers in this book: rape, parent death, abortion, sextrafficking, drugs, and alcoholism. This is not a book to be handled lightly but with courage, thoughtfulness, and care.
Sex roles are a pivotal part of the story. The power structure is built entirely upon gender.
“A son will always be a son, they say. But a girl is like a goat. Good as long as she gives you milk and butter. But not worth crying over when it’s time to make a stew” (8).
If the sex roles were reversed, not only would the perspective and narrative change, but the call for action may be dampened, as well. A story written from the perpetrator’s perspective tends to leave the reader with a sick taste in their mouth that they want to quickly rid themselves of; Sold, on the other hand, leaves the reader unsettled and , for me at least, devastated, but also filled with a sense of purpose and drive to help. A change in gender would rid me of that motivation.
Many European Americans stereotype India and its people as archaic and backwards when it comes to gender equality. Recent events in the past five years in India have garnered national attention as females have been gang raped on public transportation, killed by the men in their family for “shaming the men,” and had acid poured on their faces as a way to make sure others know that they have “shamed” the men in their families. This novel may reinforce those stereotypes as Lakshmi faces cruelty time and time again purely because of her poverty and gender.
WHO HAS THE POWER?
Throughout the novel, men are shown as the one’s who have power. Lakshmi’s stepfather determines how their meager funds will be used (typically for his own pleasure), he decides to sell her, husbands have the right to beat and shame their wives, men decide if they have to pay the women at the brothel, and it is a man who ultimately saves her Lakshmi from the Happiness House. It wasn’t solely an American man who helped her escape; instead, it was a group of people, decreasing the oversimplified story of “America to the rescue.”
“Something inside me breaks open, and I run down the steps. I see Mumtaz, her fat mango face purple with rage, her arms pinned behind her back by two policemen. She lunges in my direction and spits. But the policemen hold her back.
I see my American. There are other men with him, Indian men, and the American lady from the picture” (263).
Ultimately, it is Lakshmi who rescues herself through her tenacity, her desire to be educated, and her core of steel that allowed her to take the risk to trust a person outside of herself.