October 6

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Sold is simple book with a powerful message. It is written in language that anyone can understand, with large font and lots of white space to make it more approachable for reluctant readers. But the story it tells is enough to make adults sit up and take notice, but it may upset younger children.

Thirteen year old Lakshmi is happily growing up in a small village in Nepal. Her family is very poor, mostly due to her stepfather’s gambling, and she dreams of going to the city to work like her friend. With a job in the city she can send money home to her family for the new roof and other things they desperately need. After the monsoon washes the crops away Lakshmi gets her chance. She is sold for 800 rupees.

Lakshmi is taken to the city, and then another city, and sold on to someone else who carries her across the border into India. From there she travels on through even more cities until she is brought to a house. Completely lost, but not without her wits, she finds that she is again sold, this time for 10,000 rupees.

Soon her work begins. She has been sold into prostitution. After the initial shock, Lakshmi starts to keep a tally of her ‘earnings’. When she believes she has nearly reached 10,000 rupees (and at 30 rupees a customer that is a long time) she approaches her employer to discuss future plans. But like indenture arrangements throughout time, suddenly the price has gone up and her service will be required until she is no longer useful, usually when a girl gets ‘the virus’.

This story is powerfully told. Like Parvana by Deborah Ellis, the power comes from the stark reality of the story. Although it is not a biography of one person, McCormick interviewed many girls who had escaped this life for her background and information as well as talking to their rescuers.

This is an excellent book, but not for those who expect all children should only read make believe.

October 5

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

 I must have been hiding when this book was released two years ago. I love everything Zusak writes, and usually his books jump to the top of the queue. But this one was out for ages before I even saw it, let alone got my hands on it.

When I saw it was nearly 600 pages long, I did pause. That is a serious time committment and when editors and others are waiting for reviews, I can’t justify a book that will take days just for myself. But Tuesday this week I had a 10 hour train journey and I had found an ideal time and place.

The book is set in Germany during WWII. The chief narrator is Death, OK…unusual viewpoint. The protagonist is a young 10 year old girl being sent into foster care by her mother. On the way her younger brother, already very ill, dies and at his burial Liesel finds her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook. Although she cannot read or write, she takes it as a memorial.

When she arrives at her new foster home, she is sent to school for the first time. Since she doesn’t even know her letters, she is placed in with the very small children and made to feel foolish by them. Gradually she makes friends and establishes herself, but reading still eludes her. That is until her Papa begins her midnight lessons.

Placing this book in a neat category is hard. It is a war story, told from the point of view of civilians. It is a tale of family and friendship. The political statement about standing up to the bullies even if they wear a Nazi uniform is powerful. And then there is the poetry of the words.

Consider this brief extract… (remember Death is narrating)

“On June 23, 1942, there was a group of French Jews in a German prison, on Polish soil….Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks….I took them all away, and if ever there was a time I needed distraction, this was it. In complete desolation, I looked at the world above. I watched the sky as it turned from silver to grey to the colour of rain. Even the clouds tried to look the other way….They were French, they were Jews, and they were you.”

It makes me sad to realise very few will read this book. Those seeking a simple narrative, action and adventure will not even make it through the first few pages. I know several adults who have taken it home and returned it a few days later with the comment ‘I couldn’t get into it.’ This book will not sweep you up in the storyline and carry you away. It will force you to pause, and think and even read bits again because they are just worded so beautifully.

Thank you Zusak.

October 5

Two Little Girls in Blue by Mary Higgins Clark

It is not very often that I get to read pulp. But sometimes it is just nice to turn the brain off and whip through a bit of nonsense for a couple hours. Earlier this week I was on a train for a couple hours, so I dragged this off my shelf of ‘someday’ books.

This book is very much ‘classic’ Mary Higgins Clark. Parents go out to dinner, while they are away their children are abducted and the rest of the book is spent with the authorities working out who-dun-it and why. The reader has guessed by half way through, but you have to keep reading to find out how long it takes for the cops to figure it out.

In this case the list of suspects is long. Bosses, neighbors and even brothers are included. And I think Clark does everyone an injustice by making everyone on the list guilty of something. OK so they didn’t kidnap the kids, but they were a drug runner. Or maybe a wife killer…

My other problem with the book is the amazing psychic link between the two twins. The whole idea that when one is pinched the other one bruises doesn’t sit well. And the fact that they can talk to each other when separated by three states is also beyond belief.

Sorry, it was a pleasant way to fill a couple hours, but I won’t be rushing out to buy any more Mary Higgins Clark.