In 1983, when I was eight years old, my mom and I watched a scary movie on TV. For weeks afterward, I was convinced there was a shadowy man hiding under my bed with a sack, waiting for me to fall asleep so he could snatch me away from my family. That movie, if you have not already guessed it, was called Adam, and it was based on the real-life story of Adam Walsh–a boy born just five months before me–who was kidnapped in a Sears department store and never seen alive again.
Adam’s story still resonates with me today, 35 years later. Though the movie scared me, it also made me think twice before I wandered away from my parents in a public place. Adam’s story made me more aware of the potential dangers the world could hold, even for a kid like me.
Sold has been on my TBR for years now, and I finally read it to check content for a ninth grade English class. The teacher is interested in offering this book as a choice for reading groups. I will booktalk several titles next week, and students can pick which one they want to read in the last two weeks of school. Despite the prostitution storyline, I am recommending Sold as a potential choice. I hope Sold will affect students in the same way Adam affected me. Scary, yes, but real and necessary.
SUMMARY: Thirteen-year old Lakshmi lives in the mountains with her mother, stepfather, and baby brother. Her family is poor, but Lakshmi is happy with life’s simple pleasures. Until she is sold to pay her stepfather’s debts. Lakshmi is told she will become a maid in the city, but she is, in fact, sold into prostitution. Sent to India to live in “Happiness House,” Lakshmi is drugged, abused, and raped daily.
REVIEW: Humans are devils. That’s the only way I can explain how a story like Sold could possibly reflect real life in today’s world. We hear about human trafficking, child labor, and sex slaves every day in the news. But what is done to stop it? Sure, there are organizations dedicated to sniffing out traffickers and prostitution houses, but the tide continues to roll. Some children are kidnapped, and some, like Lakshmi, are sold off to pay debts.
Lakshmi’s life is full of such devils. Her stepfather sells her. Her mother is too weak to prevent it. Uncle-husband takes Lakshmi across the border to India and hands her over, fully-knowing the fate that awaits her. Mumtaz, the “matron” of Happiness House beats Lakshmi, drugs her, and profits from her forced prostitution. And of course, the scores of disgusting men who visit Happiness House each night in search of a young girl they can force their will on. Seriously, what is wrong with people? How can we have so many sick, perverted, nasty, twisted people in the world?
So I read this to preview content for a potential ninth grade reading selection, and I do plan to give it a green-light. This book is not pretty. It contains horrific abuse, rape scenes, drug use, and violence. But how important is this for today’s teens to understand? Could reading this book save one of them from Lakshmi’s fate? I work at a private international school in China. The students at my school, including my own two children, travel to other countries at least a few times each year. They go in and out of international airports, train stations, metros, and taxis as a normal part of their lives. Any one of them could fall prey to unscrupulous people, at any time.
As teachers and parents, I believe we have a responsibility to teach our children about real world dangers. Telling our kids not to talk to or trust strangers just isn’t enough if we do not help them to understand why they should be alert and guarded when a stranger approaches them. I cannot keep my kids in a bubble. All I can do is arm them with knowledge and pray they stay safe.
So for me, Sold is the Adam of today. In today’s world, children sometimes get kidnapped from department stores. And children and teens–both boys and girls–are sometimes kidnapped or sold for all sorts of uses. Is ninth grade too young to read this book? I don’t think so.
I read about half of this on audio and the other half in e-book form. The audio is clear, well-paced, and high-quality, but be aware that the narrator has a strong accent. Lakshmi is Nepalese and tells her story in first-person; therefore the female narrator’s accent goes with the story.
As far as content, Sold does not hold back in its descriptions of forced prostitution. Nothing is described in detail, but readers will know what is happening to Lakshmi. The focus is less on the hows of Lakshmi’s sexual abuse and more on the physical and psychological toll it takes on Lakshmi and the other girls in the brothel.
THEMES: child sex slaves, prostitution, hope, survival
THE BOTTOM LINE: A necessary addition to school and public libraries serving teens. Please do not rob teens of the opportunity to understand the dangers of trafficking. If Sold scares and disgusts them, that’s a good thing. Maybe it will save their lives one day.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it on the shelves and as a class set.
- Overall: 5/5
- Creativity: 5/5
- Characters: 5/5
- Engrossing: 5/5
- Writing: 5/5
- Appeal to teens: 5/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
- Language: I do not remember any profanity.
- Sexuality: high; loss of virginity, rape, prostitution
- Violence: high; physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; suicide by hanging
- Drugs/Alcohol: medium; the young prostitutes are drugged; some are addicted to it
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