The story line of Sold is far too common in the world: girl grows up in rural society, girl gets manipulated into the human trafficking industry by someone she knows, girl ends up in a brothel in another country where she is exploited until she escapes. (Except the escape part doesn't always happen in real life.)
What is missing from this super-short version: how and why it happens, and the effects of human trafficking on one individual. A slightly longer version can fill in some of these gaps:
Lakshmi has lived twelve of her years in a small village on a mountaintop in Nepal. She has a goat, Tali, a baby brother (no name), a mother (Ama) whom she loves dearly, and a stepfather whom she thinks is a good-for-nothing waste of space because he does no work and gambles all the time. Lakshmi has hopes and dreams for her future: she wants to continue to be the number one girl in her class at school, and she wants to earn money as a maid in the city like her friend Gita so her family won't be so poor.
But disaster strikes. The rains wash all the rice away, which means that Lakshmi and her family are hungrier and poorer than ever. As a result of their poverty her stepfather tells Lakshmi that she will go work in the city—and he arranges for a relative stranger (Auntie Bimla) to take her there. Money is exchanged between the stepfather and Auntie Bimla, and the two women set out on their journey.
While traveling, Lakshmi sees a world she never comprehended when she was living on her mountaintop in Nepal. Even though she sees debilitating poverty, she is still filled with excitement for her future. Eventually Lakshmi and Bimla meet Uncle Husband, who takes Lakshmi across the border and to a place called Happiness House. Once there, Uncle Husband and a woman named Mumtaz exchange money, and Lakshmi is taken to a small room.
Confused and with instincts screaming, Lakshmi is taken to a room where a man tries to rape her; finally, she realizes what kind of "work" she is expected to do. Although Lakshmi flees her attacker, Mumtaz corners her in the small room and explains the new world order: Lakshmi has been sold to Happiness House, a brothel which Mumtaz runs. Now she must have sex with men to pay off the money Mumtaz used to buy her. When Lakshmi refuses, Mumtaz locks her in the small room, beats her daily, and starves her. And when Lakshmi still refuses, Mumtaz drugs her and has a man rape her.
After that initial violation, Lakshmi remains in the small room for an indeterminate time. Each night, she is drugged to service the brothel's customers. Finally, Mumtaz tells her that she can join the rest of the girls in the house.
Lakshmi tries to adjust to her life at Happiness House, but she is desperately homesick and struggles to cope. Shahanna, also from Nepal, takes Lakshmi under her wing. In bits and pieces, Lakshmi learns about the other girls at the house.
Shilpa grew up in the sex trade industry; she serves as Mumtaz's right hand and spies for the cruel brothel owner. Monica is the most aggressive of the girls in the house. Anita tried to escape but was caught and beaten so badly that her face is disfigured. Pushpa is an older woman whose husband died—she has two young children, Harish and Jeena, who also live in the house. When Harish catches Lakshmi looking at his school book one day and offers to teach her Hindi, a cautious friendship blossoms between the two. Life slowly becomes less awful.
The tentative equilibrium Lakshmi builds for herself crumbles when her newfound friends gradually leave the brothel. Now Lakshmi has only Anita and Harish's storybook to keep her balanced, and she sinks into despair.
After Shilpa reveals to Lakshmi that none of the money Lakshmi makes is sent to her family in Nepal, Lakshmi snaps. She gives an American's business card to a street boy who has always been kind to her, and waits for another American to appear. When one does show up at the brothel, the two make plans for Lakshmi's escape. After Lakshmi waits for days, the American comes with non-corrupt policemen. Lakshmi, who is fourteen years old, leaves her friend Anita, walks to the American man, and tells him her name and age.