Tuesday, March 11, 2008
sold, by patricia mccormick - part two: the dilemma
Due to the nature of my job, I find myself reading a fair amount of young adult literature, and while I wouldn't ordinarily feel compelled to publicly review one, Sold was different. Reading it was - to put it mildly – a bittersweet experience, and although I had no intention of staying up until 2 am reading it straight through, I couldn’t help myself. Once begun, it begs to be finished. But after two hours of reading, pausing only every now and then to take a deep sigh and at one point even cry, I found myself with a dilemma on my hands: Despite being geared towards young adults, how on Earth do I give such a mature and horrific book to one of my students? And furthermore, should I?

Of course, this would be a non-issue if I didn’t feel so strongly that this is an important story for young people to spend some time walking around with. Issues of social justice are of high import to me as an educator, and by the time they become teenagers, young adults should not only be aware of what’s happening in the world, but they should start getting angry about it. After all, while it is not my place to lessen or belittle anyone’s painful experiences, my students live very happy and comfortable lives in comparison with the sort of children McCormick's book deals with, and it’s important that kids know this so they can put their own challenges in perspective. Of course, I’d also hope that they tuck some of this knowledge away and maybe be part of future efforts to change some of the world’s atrocities. What can I say; I’m a dreamer.

But the dilemma isn't whether or not I teach my students about the unspeakable events of both the past and the present. I'm an educator. That's my charge. The issue is  whether or not I give them a novel filled with gritty details on the subject. At what point do we say that a fourteen-year-old kid is exactly that - a kid? She should be allowed to retain a certain semblance of innocence, and while understanding that modern slavery and child sex trafficking happens, she need not spend several days getting inside the head of one of the victims, seeing what she sees and feeling what she feels.

My school's librarian has already taken her stance on this issue. She has purchased a copy of Sold, and keeps it - along with several other titles she has deemed overly controversial - on a special cart kept locked inside her office. Like buying a pornographic magazine at Barnes and Noble, no one announces that the pieces are available, but if you have the inside knowledge and make discreet inquiries you can get your hands on the goods. I suppose I could do something similar with my classroom library, however it just doesn't feel right to me. As a teacher, my fundamental job is to educate, even when it hurts.  

But, now the question shifts: If I were a parent, what choice would I make?  While the primary objective of a teacher is to educate, the primary role of a parent should be to love and protect, so as a parent (which, being that I'm not one, I'll need to take a trip to imagination-land here), would I give a book like this - a book detailing the abandonment, drugging, rape and emotional devastation of a sweet, innocent and trusting teenage girl - to my child?  

The answers is, I honestly don't know.  What do you think?

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Hm. Given that I'm in the same boat as you (an educator but not a parent) my thoughts may be of limited help (especially since I haven't read the book yet... although it's definitely going on my 'to-read' list).

Regardless, I'd lean toward putting it on your shelf, but giving students who select it (and maybe even their parents) a head's up about its graphic content. I would say that the need to understand and be moved to activism FAR outweighs the emotional struggle reading this book may cause. In fact, I'd say the more they struggle with reading it, the better, because then they're actually thinking about the issues involved.

That, and if you ask my mom, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger," which for me growing up included everything from eating liver to learning to see things in shades of grey, however brutal the reality may be.

Blogger Mary said...

OK I'm neither an educator nor a parent, but I can add my two cents I guess.
I think that this book would be something for children who's parents are activly involved in their lives. I would like to be the sort of parent someday that would encourage my future child (Junior) to read this book and then, or beforehand, read it myself and discuss it with Junior. I think that way Junior would get the most out of it, becuase I'm sure that such a book would raise questions that he would want to come to me to talk about.

However, I think there are a lot of bad parents out there who if they found their kid reading it and then discovered what it was about would make a public scene about how could you subject their children to this, rather than look at the importance of having their children read this book. These are the really annoying parents my sister (an educator) talks about fairly frequently, so I know they exist.

Perhaps you could try sending a letter out to the parents letting them know that the book exists on your shelf and that you encourage them to be involved in discussing the book with their children if they bring it home to read it. And I will have to go to the good library and see if I can find it to read. I'm already stalking the juvenile section to find A Little Princess anyway. :)

Blogger paul said...

If one of your students went to a bookstore to buy this book, would they be able to? If so, then I see no problem making it available, at least from an philosophical educational perspective.

The problem lies administratively. Basically, would the educational benefits for your students outweigh any problems that might be caused by principals/parents/etc.? It's sad, but I think that's the question you need to ask. After all, there are a lot of books with far less graphic content that higher-ups tend to have problems with.

As a compromise, why not take a similar stance that your library takes? Don't put it out on the shelf for general perusal. Just perhaps mention it's there and moderate more closely, situation by situation, who you give it out to?

As teachers, our fundamental job is to educate. You're right. The problem is that the various systems we all operate under as teachers just don't let us do so in the best way possible all the time.

Blogger Abs said...

I have more of a question than a thought: What makes this book young adult fiction? As I read your description, and considered the problem, I started to wonder what led it to be classified YA; is it just that it is about a 13-year-old girl? Is it the writing itself? Is it the intentions of the author?
I've read a couple of supposed YA books the classifications of which I've questioned. I know the publishing industry sometimes just does things for market value. This may not be relevant in this case at all, but I thought it was worth a ponder.

Blogger Carrie said...

I agree with Paul- I'd probably give this out on a case by case basis too.

My sister has had to deal with similar issues in her library- mostly with the Harry Potter books. One would think that those wouldn't be that controversial anymore, but she doesn't think that they're necessarily appropriate for every kid in grade school to read by themself. If some kids ask for them, she'll let them check it out, but others, she'll tell them it's checked out. You could try the same method. If the kids really want it, then they can always bug their parents to get it for them.

I'm also curious about how exactly it is young adult...

Blogger cornshake said...

i know i am quite biased as sex-trafficking in Asia is a subject that turns me into a locoland of passion. passion to EDUCATE more people about this in the hopes that they want to do even a small bit to help STAMP it out..

so: now that THAT is on the table, i absolutely think this subject should be available (even taught!) to junior/high and high schoolers. They get *far* worse representations of sex and violence just by hanging out in a backseat of a car with someone, turning on the tv, or going to the movies (NCFOMen, cough cough), and any parent who thinks otherwise is not facing facts. And from what you say, this subject gets handled intelligently and thoughtfully so it seems like it would be even preferable, probably even a fantastic learning point for students.

i can't tell you how many of my college students are just STUNNED, STUNNED when asked to think at all about other countries period, let alone thinking about problems in other countries and their main response?
"We never learned about this in high school! We don't know what/how to think about this!"

i would rather my son learn about the sex trade evils from (ideally me or D) or at least book that gives insight and care to developing empathy for its characters, rather than learning about it from some crass movie stereotype. better yet, i'd rather that sex-trafficking be a long-forgotten evil in the world by the time he is a teenager. wishful thinking??

but, you rock, for even thinking about this important ideas and being sensitive to parents! it's people like you who give me faith in high school teachers...xo

Blogger Mrs. White said...

Thank you to everyone who has thrown in their two cents on the issue. In response to Abs's question of what classifies this book as YA: technically, any book with a teenage protagonist can be classified as young adult fiction. As such, classics such as A Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird can get the label. Just like any novel, some YA pieces are more substantive than others (Juan Diaz vs. Danielle Steel, if you will), and Sold would definitely fit on the "highly substantive" end of the spectrum.

Besides a teen protagonist, the style is very simple and the reading level is definitely intended for a younger audience, although - like any solid piece of fiction - it has appeal for any age group.

Additionally, the novel was a 2006 National Book Award Finalist in the category of YA Lit, and is on the American Library Association's list of the top ten books for 2007 for young adults.

Finally, and partly in response to Cornshake's comment, all 9th graders have been in the process of collecting current events on social injustices occurring in the world, which will soon become the basis of a research-based photo-story project. As they, one-by-one, share the injustices they've researched in the news, everyone has been largely ho-hum about the stories. It's as if they are completely numb to the news; it isn't real to them. Ironically, fictional stories like this one make these issues real, which is largely why I think they are so important. If the world needs anything, it's a healthy dose of empathy.

Blogger Sheena Little said...

I'm a Mother of 3 children,. Ages 22,16,14.. I recently found the book 'SOLD' on my 16yr old daughter's dresser and discovered she had chosen it from the Senior Fiction section of the School Library - to complete the Cultural section of an English curriculum asssignment. The title alerted me to the possibility that it may be about prostitution, and the back cover overview confirmed this, so I decided to check the content. It contained the most explicit sexual detail of the drugging and rape of a young girl - and her initiation into prostitution from the girl's own perspective. I am a fairly solid sort of person, and the book made me feel very low and angry that any teenager or even an adult may have the misfortune of reading this type of material. It is borderline pornography / perversion. The fact that this is a ficticious book does not excuse it from being available to School students. The inappropriate content has the potential to disturb emotions and distort thinking towards the opposite sex and sex itself. A teenager does not have the knowledge yet to discern how this graphic information may affect them. But as adults, it is our job to protect them. I'm not talking about life's challenges,.. but from inappropriate 'resources' falling into their hands. There is no way this book can benefit anyone. If a Police Officer were to take a victim statement to this degree, they would have the luxury of a de-brief and access to counselling. This book could tip a teenager over the edge - emotionally. Any supposed beneficial cultural teaching outcome, or poetic storyline is drowned out by the dark sexual activity, acts, and effects upon a girl -that overshadows the lot. Throw it out, I say !

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an educator and a parent. I am considering teaching this book in a summer school high school english class. After reading through the posts, my question becomes WHY is this book considered questionable and controversial? The subject is a harsh reality, and we surely do not shield our students or our children from images of the Holocaust. In fact, Night is required reading in most 9th grade class rooms.
I will reread this text with all the posts in mind before coming to a final decision, but I agree that it is time for our young people to rise up and get angry at the world's attrocities. Maybe this book will act as a catalyst.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

No. Not all children are subjected to garbage at home or what they watch on tv. So saying " Any parent who thinks otherwise isn't facing facts" doesn't even make sense. Students can be thoroughly educated about world issues without having to dive into experiencing being raped "...as he tore into me"....

Reading this left many students disturbed and had an overall negative affect.

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