REVIEW: Sold by Patricia McCormick

Mumtaz is a monster, I tell myself. Only a monster could do
what she does to innocent girls.
But I wonder. If the crying of a young girl is the same to me
as the bleating of the horns in the street below, what have
I become?

Patricia McCormick is a two-time finalist for the National Book Award, and in Sold, nominated in 2006 for the award in Young People’s Literature, it is easy to see why.

Readers are immediately taken beyond what most are familiar with to thirteen-year-old Lakshmi’s village in Nepal. Here, Lakshmi lives in poverty with a gambling stepfather, a loving mother, and a younger brother who might not survive the year, hoping that one day, her family might be able to afford a tin roof for their home. Their situation only worsens when a monsoon destroys their crops, and, in order to support her family, Lakshmi is forced to take a job as a maid in the city.

Or so she thinks.40577411

In what is a stunningly poetic, but still simplistic, novel, drawing upon stories from real Nepalese survivors, Lakshmi is instead sold away into sexual slavery, taken far from her village to India, where she quickly finds herself face to face with the reality that in order to pay off her family’s debt, she must work as a prostitute. What does not become clear to Lakshmi until it is too late, though, is the fact that Mumtaz, who runs the brothel, is cheating her of her earnings by charging her for rent, for food, and is keeping her trapped.

While Lakshmi bonds with the young women also trapped in this life, she still conspires to pay off this debt so that she may leave — but how can anyone survive this nightmare?

The nightmare of sexual slavery is an abhorrent reality. McCormick excels in using quantifiable information as well as imagery to convey this reality in lines such as the following:

Thirty rupees.
That is the price of a bottle of Coca-Cola at Bajai Sita’s store.
That is what he paid for me.
Then I catch sight of a girl in the mirror.
She has blackened tiger eyes and bleary chili pepper lips.
She looks back at me full of sadness and scorn and says,
You have become one of them.

Readers will hope against hope for Lakshmi’s survival and escape, will be stunned with anger with the realization that 30 rupees is less than 50 cents, and will be rocked emotionally in ways they never thought possible.

To learn more about survivors of sex trafficking, look into the documentary The Price of Sex by Mimi Chakarova, which details the horrors in Eastern Europe.

Sold has also been adapted into a film directed by Jeffrey Brown and executive produced by Emma Thompson. Click here to watch the trailer.

Here are the U.S. State Department’s 15 ways we can help fight sexual trafficking.

But above all — if Lakshmi’s story moves you, champion the novel, support survivors, and start researching.

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Reacting to Reacting Out Loud

Last fall, I took a class called “Teaching Writing in Secondary Schools.” While that may not sound exciting to some, it’s obviously quite crucial for someone who’s going to be an English teacher.

This semester, I’m the TA for that very same class, and in both of those semesters, one of the first activities is to make a list of our writing territories.

Translation? We compiled our own lists of topics we’d like to write about, genres we’d like to try, and audiences we’d like to write for. As I was looking through my old notes from the first time I was a part of the class, I saw that for genres I’d like to try, I wrote “poetry.”

This semester, I also wrote “poetry” on that genre list.

On Sunday, not only did I have a completed poem waiting on my Evernote, but I read that poem out loud and tried to control my shaking hands. I did what I set out to do, and, goodness, it was simultaneously the most thrilling and nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done.

“But Rachel,” you’ve started asking, “You’re going to be a teacher — you must be a good writer. How could you be scared of sharing your writing like that? And you know you’re going to have to share your other writing with your students, right?”

Whether or not I’m a good writer is a question I find myself frequently agonizing over, but it wasn’t a matter of whether or not I thought the poem was good (side note — poetry is hard; I struggle more with poetry than any other kind of writing) — it was a matter of the content and the delivery.

My poem (which might make its way to Reacting Out Loud’s YouTube channel if the audio came through; open mic night without a mic was certainly an exercise in projecting, but it made the night infinitely more intimate, I think, as I found myself really listening to the many talented poets that read and shared their work) was about fatness. And mermaids and the goddess Aphrodite, but primarily about fatness.

This was what made the night so nerve-wracking.

I rarely call myself fat because the term scares me. I have heard the word thrown around like a curse, like something to be whispered because obviously this person isn’t aware that they’re bigger than you, and like something to be screamed as an insult. I had never heard the word used positively and without judgment until this year.

The content, here, the very word “fat,” is something I agonized over. I have always used the word “overweight” to describe myself, and I found myself using the word “plump” in my poem, but the word that was repeated most in the poem was “fat.” I called myself fat and described what it feels like to be fat, but not that fat and not that skinny, while standing on a stage, on a little platform where people could see exactly how big I was.

There, the delivery becomes terrifying. I could not hide behind my words because I was my words. This was me on the page (um, app, really, since I didn’t print out my poem) and I was asking people to accept that.

And they did.

One of the key components of Reacting Out Loud is, simply, reacting out loud. Vocalizing when you hear lines you like, snapping and showing the poet that you appreciate their craft and appreciate what they’re doing.

I was petrified that Two Cats Cafe would be deadly silent as I read, but instead, I was so supported that even as my hands were shaking so violently that I was afraid I’d drop my phone, I knew that I had to keep going because people were listening to me and cared about what I was saying. They were snapping and hollering and I had to continue onwards.

When I stepped off stage, the applause was thunderous, and I almost collapsed in on myself in relief. I had made my way back to my table and yet still people were clapping. People came up to me afterwards and said that they loved my poem; I received hugs and handshakes, and I was still shaking, but I was the good kind of shaky.

I had entered a world that I had previously only admired from afar, and I felt welcomed. I felt as if I was one step closer to becoming a goddess.