Award: National Book Award Finalist of 2006
If you don’t feel comfortable reading about children from families so poor they are forced to sell them into sex slavery–sometimes unknowingly–then I don’t suggest you read this book. If you are someone who can explore the dark side of humanity and still able to come away with a sense of hope that all is not lost, then please pick up this book as soon as you can.
Lakshmi is a thirteen year old girl who lives in extreme poverty in Nepal. Her fondest wish is to be able to earn enough money to fix the roof of her family’s shack, buy food for her mom and baby brother, and get them both warm clothes. Daily, she tightens her waistcloth as tightly as she can to fool her stomach into thinking it’s full and juggles school and tending to their rice paddy. When disaster strikes, her stepfather decides it is time for Lakshmi to go to the city and earn money as a maid. Proud to finally be able to earn enough money for her family, she buys a coat for the baby and a sweater for her mother. In the minutes before she is whisked away to an unknown and unexpected future as a sex slave, she splurges and buys her mother something that will make her the envy of everyone in the village: a bottle of Coca-Cola.
This is certainly not a book for the little eyes. It is truly a heart-wrenching, page turning horror of the reality of the sex trade. The author doesn’t bog the novel down with heavy descriptions or righteous and long-winded chapters meant to warn the reader. Instead, each chapter is rarely more than a page long, they are snippets resembling poetry. At one point I felt like I was looking through a picture book, each page harder to turn, yet impossible to look away from. When Lakshmi was locked in a room with a dirty mattress and drugged into submission, I shook my head, closed my eyes and wondered why I kept reading.
The answer to that is quite simple: Lakshmi’s fate was too terrible to turn away from. The sad reality is that being sold into slavery happens every day. Closing our eyes to it is disrespectful to the women and girls like the fictional character of Lakshmi. I applaud Patricia McCormick’s hard work in researching and writing this novel. I fully recommend this book, though with the warning that if the younger readers are interested, please share it and discuss it with a responsible adult.
If you have read it, or decide to read it after seeing it on this blog, please let me know your thoughts on it.
Finally, the one quote that I will always carry with me from this book comes from a chapter near the end of the story, where Lakshmi, now fourteen, thinks:
“This affliction–hope–is so cruel and stubborn, I believe it will kill me“.
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