3 questions for Patricia McCormick, whose book 'Sold' has been banned in 6 states

“Sold” is the sixth-most-banned book in the country and the most banned book in the state of Florida.

Author Patricia McCormick.
Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images

When author Patricia McCormick published her book Sold in 2006, about a young Nepalese girl who struggles to survive after being sold into sexual slavery, she had no idea the award-winning novel would later become one of the most banned books in America.

Sold is currently banned in at least 11 school districts across six states, according to data compiled by the free speech group PEN America, and overall, it’s tied as the sixth-most-banned book in the country. It’s also the most banned book in the state of Florida.

Some parents have complained that the book is too sexually graphic in nature, akin to pornography, a charge McCormick refutes.

Read more on Yahoo News: Who are ‘Moms for Liberty’ and why is the group so controversial?

Conservative organizations, like the parental rights group Moms for Liberty, have organized banning efforts nationwide, pulling books from library shelves and fielding candidates for school board races in an effort to overhaul curricula. The efforts led to a record-high number of book bans and challenges in 2022, according to the American Library Association.

A dozen or so people hold rainbow flags, and signs, one of which reads: Your ban targets our LGBTQ+ students, who's next? Stop the ban. Stop the hate.
Demonstrators protest against banning books outside the Henry Ford Centennial Library in Dearborn, Mich., in September 2022. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

Yahoo News spoke to McCormick about how Sold became a target of those seeking to ban books. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

1. Can you explain exactly why you think your book was banned, and do you think these efforts are equivalent to saying your story is not valid?

Absolutely. My book is caught up in a net of many things that people object to, including people who are trans and even Black and Hispanic youth. Just because you don’t agree with it doesn’t mean you should take it out of the hands of all young people. Maybe your own, if you want.

I also acknowledge that I’m in a relatively safe space, so I can stick my neck out a little bit. I’m not a sixth-grade teacher who’s going to run into the angry mom at the grocery store. That’s why I feel strongly about the work I want to do, which is to really support the teachers and the librarians.

2. Groups like Moms for Liberty say they want to protect kids by banning books. How do you see it?

It’s so important for kids to see themselves in the books they read. When kids have these experiences like sexual assault, the book gives them a way to talk about it — and then their friends and teachers can help. I find it hard to understand why books with sexual content are so threatening. I was always aware that I was writing for other people’s children, but after all, I too am a mom of now-adult children myself. But a story about the rape of a child, when they call that pornography, it’s wrong. That’s rape. They’re leaving young people defenseless in a way to understand some of the darker parts of the world.

Read more on Yahoo News: ‘What is woke math?’: In Florida, public school teachers bristle at DeSantis’s changes to education

And to those who say, "Some students may feel uncomfortable" or "Some students may feel guilty if certain things are taught," that is such a broad overstatement. We should all feel sad. We should all feel accountable to addressing and making change in situations where there’s systemic inequity. I’m not saying we should feel guilty or we should make little kids feel guilty. Absolutely not. But there’s a sense of shared responsibility for us all in this fractured world and an opportunity to say, "Here's a story that shows how one person is hurt by that, and what can I do." It really short-circuits kids’ ability to be empathetic and altruistic.

3. In 2006, Sold was a National Book Award finalist for Young People’s Literature. Then it became one of the most banned books in America. What does the recent zeal to stifle certain stories say about where we are going as a country?

It’s depressing to me that well-thought-out, well-researched stories are being challenged like this. People have said, "You’re in good company. You’re with Toni Morrison. It must be really great for sales." No, it’s not. It’s just really sad what the powerful minority, and maybe the acquiescent or the unaware majority, are doing. I think when people do find out about what’s happening, kids have been going to school board meetings and they run for school board. Parents are coming into the school board meetings to challenge what’s going on, but often it’s too late. The school board is already stacked with people who support this kind of censorship.

And I think for me, this experience of being banned is very remote. I am far from the frontlines of where this happens. It’s the librarians and the teachers who have the guts to bring these books into the classroom who need our support, and they need vocal support and they need visible support, because their jobs are on the line. These laws are so punitive that if a teacher goes against them, and sometimes they’re very vague, they can lose their livelihood.