November 13, 2006

For Sale: One goddess

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.


It is the name of a goddess.
It is the name of someone with power.
It is the name of millions of beloved little girls in Nepal.
It is the name of a girl who is sold.

Her eyes will haunt you, as will her small and flawless forehead; too young for the scarring of acne. She has a modestly covered mouth, indicating that she has been raised well by a mother who loved her enough to teacher her the rules of her culture. Lakshmi is one girl and a million girls, living in poverty in a small Himalayan village, met by a flashy, wealthy stranger, sold by a stepfather for a new coat, a hat, and more money for gambling at the village tea house. She is only thirteen.

Lakshmi doesn't want to leave home, but a dutiful daughter does what she is told. She believes her leaving is helping her family. She imagines that she will be sending home maid's wages to pay for a new tin roof to keep the baby healthy, to support her mother's bent back, and maybe even provide a few affordable luxuries for her undeserving and feckless stepfather. Instead of the world of work for which she is prepared, Lakshmi is taken to India, to a brothel run by a cunning and vicious woman named Mumtaz, who starves and chokes and beats Lakshmi to enforce her will. She will work, Mumtaz is sure. But she does not, so she is, instead, drugged into submission to a living nightmare.

In beautifully clear blank verse, Lakshmi's story is told with painful honesty, but without sentimentality. Each day, each hour, is a vingnette which stands starkly against the reality of the life of a young girl who has been enslaved. Lakshmi was the number one girl in her school. She knows how to add and subtract, how much each of the rupees that Mumtaz gains for her service should be broken down into paying off the debt she owes -- the debt she has earned all unknowing by eating food and wearing clothes and shoes in that deceptive household. Every illness, every aspirin, every shot from the filthy doctor -- these things add up, and Lakshmi knows she will never leave.

"Simply to endure is to triumph," is what Lakshmi's Ama has taught her. But is a will to endure enough when you have been Sold?

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