Sold by Patricia McCormick, Hyperion, 2006, ISBN: 978-0-7868-5172-0
Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl living with her mother and stepfather in the rural mountains of Nepal. The family is desperately poor and cannot afford a new tin roof to protect them from the monsoon rains of the region. When her lazy and shiftless stepfather sees an opportunity to earn some money, he sells Lakshmi into slavery. What Lakshmi and her mother do not realize is that he has sold her into sexual slavery. After an arduous journey to India, she becomes a child prostitute in the “Happiness House” run by the ruthless owner, Mumtaz.
Mumtaz is a hard and selfish woman who forces Lakshmi to have sex with older men to pay off her family debts. She punishes Lakshmi and the other girls ruthlessly if they do not comply with her rules and earn her money. Lakshmi’s life in the “Happiness House” is miserable, filled with physical and emotional abuse and disease. The only thing that makes her time bearable are the friends she makes with the other children who live there. Shahanna, another girl from Nepal, helps her get accustomed to her new life. Her roommate Pushpa has an eight-year-old son named Harish who attends school and teaches Lakshmi some English and Hindi. Lakshmi envies him his “normal” life but sees no way to escape the hell her present circumstances. When an American undercover agent visits the “Happiness House” Lakshmi senses an opportunity to escape, but first she must decide if she can risk her life by putting her trust in this stranger.
As she demonstrated in Cut, Patricia McCormick has shown that she is able to tackle tough subjects with great empathy and understanding. Writing from Lakshmi’s first person perspective, she helps the reader understand the brutal world that Lakshmi lives in as seen in this excerpt: “Then Mumtaz flies at me. She grabs me by the hair and drags me across the room. She flings me onto the bed next to the old man. 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” (103). The story is told in short, almost staccato sentences, which reflect Lakshmi’s age and naiveté. They also help minimize the graphic horror of her situation for the reader. While her circumstances are terrifying, the description never becomes overly graphic or sensationalized.
As part of her research, McCormick interviewed many girls who had experienced this kind of sexual slavery. The details she provides of how these girls are targeted, sold, and forced into prostitution feel real and authentic. The situation comes across as hopeless, except for the courage the girls demonstrate. Each of the girls profiled in the book has a strong will to survive and escape their dire circumstances, which makes the reading uplifting, rather than bleak and depressing. These are stories that must be told in order to stop such a barbaric form of commerce to continue to destroy these girls’ lives.
Patricia McCormick takes readers into the world of human sexual slavery with Sold, the story of thirteen-year-old Lakshmi, sold into prostitution by her desperate family. Lakshmi must figure out a way to survive the brutal world of the “Happiness House” with the other girls trapped there. The novel is filled with cruelty, courage, and even hope.
Information about the author
From the author’s page on Amazon.com, we learn that, “Patricia McCormick is a former journalist, novelist and National Book Award Finalist. Cut was her first novel. Published in 1999, it has sold nearly 800,000 copies. Her other books, Sold, My Brother’s Keeper, and Purple Heart have received numerous awards.”
Young Adult Fiction
English, Social Studies, Civics
How might you and your friends raise awareness about human trafficking in your community?
Which scene in the Happiness House affected you the most?
How does McCormick’s writing help you feel the horror of Lakshmi’s circumstances?
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 9 and up
The novel deals with the topic of child prostitution. The focus of the story is on courage and survival of this nightmarish situation and does not describe sexual acts in graphic detail. The book was a National Book Award Finalist.
Why did I include this title?
Sold was recommended to me by another librarian as a book that tackles a difficult subject in a sensitive way. The writing is sparse and almost poetic in passages. The short vignette chapters tell the story in a way that’s engaging, and even enjoyable (given the subject matter), for young readers.