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A Deeper Dive: Books about Modern Slavery

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Recommendations Moderator RA here! For the month of December and our theme of Modern Slavery, our selections for discussion are young adult and middle grade novels, plus picture books about advocacy and activism for kids. We felt that these selections would be accessible entry points for people who have not encountered this topic before. However, for those of you who want to take a deeper dive into books about human trafficking and modern slavery, this list is for you.

Thank you for being willing to engage on the tough topic of modern slavery. By reading these books and talking about them, we can raise awareness about this issue.

Books Dealing Directly with Modern Slavery

  • The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, by Gary Haugen: This in-depth adult nonfiction book uses statistics and case studies to show the connections between poverty, lack of physical safety, and human trafficking. It’s a difficult read because it’s dense, and the topic is really tough. It’s worthwhile to work through it, even if it takes time. This book puts human trafficking in context that will help you understand the issue more thoroughly.

  • Slave: My True Story, by Mende Nazer: This compelling adult memoir is the story of the author being captured and sold into slavery in Sudan. It’s jarring because it’s a modern story in the 21st century, and the contrast between her life in the African bush and then being enslaved in the city of Khartoum is very dramatic. Trigger warnings for physical abuse, rape, and genital mutilation: all brief scenes but definitely rough.

  • Sold, by Patricia McCormick: This young adult novel follows Lakshmi, a 13-year-old from Nepal who is sold into prostitution over the border in India. The author is really effective in inhabiting the voice of the narrator, who realizes how trapped she is, that she will never pay off her "debt" and the police are colluding with the brothel owner. This book is recommended for mature YA readers (8th grade and up).

Adjacent Books

  • Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: This nonfiction adult book discusses the many sad and often horrifying ways that women are oppressed around the world, from human trafficking to genital mutilation to child marriage. It is a very difficult book but not entirely hopeless. The authors highlight effective interventions and action steps that you can take to help. Be aware that the content in this book is graphic and hard to read; however, it cultivates perspective in regard to the privileges that many of us enjoy. Hopefully, reading this book will be an powerful experience that compels you to action!

  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo: This nonfiction adult book is written by a journalist who lived in the slums of Mumbai for several years to report about the intertwined lives of people living in a neighborhood called Annawadi. The storytelling reads like a novel; the author paints the people she writes about as real people, with hopes and frustrations and flaws. Although human trafficking is not at the center of this book, it lurks quietly in the background as families struggle to survive.

  • Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time, by Tanya Lee Stone: This nonfiction young adult book is based on the film by the same name, and it compiles stories of real girls around the world who have persisted in gaining an education despite tremendously difficult odds. The author does a great job setting up the context of the problem: due to human trafficking, child marriage, and desperate poverty, girls are uneducated and vulnerable to exploitation. This book would be a wonderful entry point in a classroom or at home for conversations about endurance and adversity. The photographs are full-color and beautiful, and the short bios of each girl are compelling, especially for readers of the same age.