Plot summary (from the inside cover)
"Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. Her family is desperately poor...Lakshmi's stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family. He introduces her to a glamorous stranger who tells her she will find her a job as a maid working for a wealthy woman in the city. Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi undertakes the long journey to India and arrives at 'Happiness House' full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution."
The content of the book made this a tough read. How can young girls (9-18) be subjected to this kind of life, and we (the rest of the world) seemingly do NOTHING to change their plight? Well, that's not exactly true. There are many people trying to stop this form of slavery.
The novel is written in verse form. It starts with her meager life in the mountains. Her stepfather accepts 800 rupees for her (McCormick 53). Does he know where she's really going and what she'll have to do? When she packs, she has:
the notebook my teachers gave me for being the number one
girl in school,
and my bedroll.
Inside my head I carry:
my baby goat,
my baby brother,
my ama's face,
our family's future.
My bundle is light.
My burden is heavy. (McCormick 60)
On her journey, she learns that if she tries to run away, her head will be shaved and she will be publicly disgraced. When she arrives at Happiness House, she wonders if this is "where the movie stars live" (McCormick 91). That broke my heart seeing that she was still so hopeful for her future. Just a few pages later, she learns what her future really will be. She must do whatever she is asked to do.
McCormick writes a powerful story that has stayed with me. I think about the countless girls (and boys) who are promised things and then must endure such atrocities because they "owe" their captive. When Lakshmi decides she will work hard to pay off her debt, she quickly learns that her "expenses" are never met with the money she's made. She is devastated. "Because if [another girl] is right, everything I've done here, everything that's been done to me, was for nothing" (McCormick 239). She does get hope to escape, but even that is painful. "This affliction--hope--is so cruel and stubborn, I believe it will kill me" (McCormick 256).
Even though her character is fictional, McCormick writes about the research she did to create Lakshmi's story.