Friday, November 03, 2006

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Rating - 3: worth reading once (borrow it from a library)

What better way to follow a book on educating rural Nepal than with a story about a girl from rural Nepal?

Pause here if you plan just to take my recommendation and read the book. This review has no more spoilers than the back cover, and really the title gets you half-way there, but there is technically a plot twist about a third of the way through. Reviewing the book without giving it away would be like reviewing War of the Worlds without mentioning Martians (though the title again does the work there). So if you are really sensitive to spoilers, let me get one last sentence, and then you can go read the book and come back here to post comments.

Great cover.

Okay, if you are reading this far, I can now do the normal plot summary. 13-year-old Lakshmi thinks she is going to the city to be a maid, earning her family money. Instead, she has been sold to a brothel in India. This is the story of her endurance.

The great strength of the book is in its sparse style. The words are simple and plain. The story stands on its own merits. The presentation is straightforward and accessible, flowing very naturally.

It is told in mostly one- to two-page vignettes, which sometimes (often?) slip into free verse. The doses of Lakshmi's suffering are small, often poignant.

The great weakness of the book is its lack of harshness. It is a good thing to avoid sensationalism, and I have said elsewhere that I can do without graphic rape scenes in my reading, but it seems to matter little that this book takes place in a brothel. It makes some of the scenes a bit harsher, but it could be the story of anyone enslaved. It is a story filled with a dull ache, a burden that must be endured. The pain is not sufficiently sharp. Lakshmi is drugged or mentally absent, and forced sex with men four times her age is summarized in a sentence or two. The descriptions of hunger or beatings are explicit and repeatedly; the sex is abstract, distant. I should be more uncomfortable reading this, instead of thinking that I could recommend it to my mother.

The whole point is not to be comfortable with selling girls into sexual slavery. Hit me harder.

That said, the psychology of the book rings true. It is an easy read: anyone old enough for the subject matter should be fine. If you want a book for a high school or college discussion that is not going to leave anyone emotionally shattered, this is a good one.

Amazon link

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