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In her previous novels, Patricia McCormick has proven her adeptness at the so-called young adult problem novel, tackling the subjects of self-mutilation (CUT) and drug abuse (MY BROTHER'S KEEPER) with a sensitivity and understanding of both her subjects and her readers. With her newest novel, SOLD, McCormick eyes a lesser-known, but no less insidious, problem, with her characteristic compassion and insight.

Thirteen-year-old Lakshmi lives with her beloved mother, her shiftless and irresponsible stepfather, and her younger brother in a small shack in the mountains of Nepal. Her days are spent gathering water, doing household chores, and tending the goat and the small garden patch for which she is responsible. Her life is hard, at the mercy of extreme weather conditions that range from endless heat to damaging monsoons.

Lakshmi excels at school and is promised in marriage to a local boy. She hopes for better things for the future and imagines being able to help her mother by buying a tin roof for their house. Lakshmi compares her own poverty with the relative wealth of her friend Gita's family: "Now that Gita is gone, to work as a maid for a wealthy woman in the city, her family has a tiny glass sun that hangs from a wire in the middle of their ceiling, a new set of pots for Gita's mother, a pair of spectacles for her father, a brocaded wedding dress for her older sister, and school fees for her little brother."

After bad weather and her stepfather's carelessness ruin the family's finances, Lakshmi believes that she, too, can go to the city as a maid. But when her stepfather accepts 800 rupees from a woman who promises to take Lakshmi to the city to find work, Lakshmi has no idea of the appalling future that awaits her.

Lakshmi's final destination is not even in Nepal; instead, she is bound for Calcutta, India, where she becomes one of the 12,000 Nepalese young women sold into sex slavery in India each year. Instead of the city with roofs of gold that she had imagined, she finds only horror: "Men come. / They crush my bones with their weight. / They split me open. / Then they disappear. / I cannot tell which of the things they do to me are real, / and which are nightmares / I decide to think that it is all a nightmare. / Because if what is happening is real, / it is unbearable."

Lakshmi emerges from her nightmare when she enters into uneasy and short-lived friendships with the other girls at Happiness House and with a boy who helps her learn Hindi and English words. As Lakshmi keeps a running total of her earnings to determine when she can repay her debt and return to her family, she is too frightened even to allow herself to hope for escape: "This affliction --- hope --- is so cruel and stubborn. I believe it will kill me."

Written in a free-verse style from Lakshmi's own perspective, SOLD is a demanding and at times painful book to read. These challenges, however, only serve to heighten the impact of this powerful and important novel that sheds light on a global crisis that is unknown to most teenagers (and adults, for that matter). During her writing for this book, McCormick conducted extensive research in Nepal and India, passing down the road these women travel into slavery and hearing their stories firsthand, writing the book to honor their stories and to bring attention to this awful practice. The importance of this mission, combined with the author's sensitive, emotional writing and compassion for Lakshmi, makes the novel a compelling read on countless levels.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 12, 2006

by Patricia McCormick

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 263 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion Book CH
  • ISBN-10: 0786851724
  • ISBN-13: 9780786851720