Few books stick with me like this one did — not surprising considering it is the 2013 Printz winner.
Fifteen-year-old Shorty, begins his tale immediately following the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. Buried in the rubble of the hospital, recuperating from wounds he suffered in the ubiquitous gang violence that is Haiti, Shorty recounts the story of how he got there. In the darkness of his living tomb, he begins to hallucinate, and in his ravings, he begins to remember events in someone else’s life: that of Toussaint L’Overture, the legendary liberator of Haiti from French domination in the 18th century.
In chapters that alternate between “Then” and “Now”, Lake recounts the lives of both Shorty and Toussaint moving between the Republic’s hopeful birth in a slave revolt, to the tragedy that is modern Haiti. Lake vividly evokes the horror of events on the island by pulling no punches, laying bare the raw facts of the Toussaint’s life in slavery and the slave revolt, grounding the story in rich sensory details: the sticky heat, the smell of blood, the sound a machete makes when it severs a limb. The reader cannot look away, as he reveals the face of a dying baby, the effect of bullets on the human body, and the mystery of Voodoo. In addition, Lake explores the precariousness of life, and the power of love.
This is not a book for the faint of heart, but although the violence, despair and pain spring genuinely from the story’s roots Lake offers hope, as well; hope grounded in the love of a mother for her son, a brother for his sister, friends for each other, and a leader for his nation. This book will leave you wrung out, but thankful for the truths it reveals.
Sexual material – S
Violence – VVV
Questionable Behavior -??
Patricia McCormick’s novel, Sold, offers an important glimpse into the tragedy of human trafficking and the international sex trade of young girls in Nepal and India. Lakshmi, sold by her step-father to an uncertain fate, leaves her mountain home with the hopeful expectation that she will find employment in the city and will be able to send money back to her family so they, too, can have a tin roof, and a few luxuries like their neighbors who have daughters working in the city. As she journeys far from her mother, her beloved pet goat, her village and her baby brother, despite the signs that all is not what it should be, Lakshmi maintains her faith that her family will benefit from her suffering.
McCormick heightens the tragedy Lakshmi suffers by preceding the scenes of her degradation with those of family love and the simple joys and challenges of her life in the mountain village of Nepal. Through it all Lakshmi’s voice, never falters, always sounding genuinely young and hopeful. It is that hope, and the small kindness of friends and strangers, some of them from the very men who come to the “Happiness House” brothel, that prevents the reader from being swallowed by the despair that permeates the story. When her situation seems almost too much to bear, McCormick provides just the right sliver of genuine friendship that begins to deliver Lakshmi, and the reader, out of the pit of hopelessness. Although the afterword offers information about how real girls like Lakshmi, those who have escaped the life of forced prostitution and slavery, work to free others from their fate, one aches at the prospect that Lakshmi will never be reunited with her beloved mother, and that far from being a fictional character, thousands of women and girls suffer far worse all over the world everyday.
Finally, although the story is one that must be told, the work leaves the reader with the strong impression that women and girls are despised, degraded, and unwanted throughout the region. The book leaves little room for true insight into the rich cultural heritage of India and Nepal. Reading Sold leaves one begging for another story to balance out the negative impression left behind by the tragedy recounted in this beautifully written but disturbing tale.
Sexual material — SS
Questionable behavior – 0