Losing your family in a tsunami would ordinarily qualify as the absolutely worst thing that ever happened to you. For Indian teenagers, Ahalya and Sita Ghai, it's just the first in a series of nightmares in Corban Addison's debut novel, A Walk Across the Sun.
Readers only get one morning to observe the girls' sheltered life before the giant wave hits. Shellshocked and unprotected, while seeking the safety of their convent school, the sisters are kidnapped and sold to a brothel in Mumbai.
Meanwhile, when his D.C. law firm suffers a crushing defeat, Thomas Clarke is appointed official scapegoat. His wife has left him and returned to India after the death of their infant daughter, and Clarke chooses to serve out his exile doing pro bono work in India for CASE, a nonprofit that tries to rescue minors such as Ahalya and Sita. After a raid frees one of them, Clarke finds himself unable to give up until he finds the other sister. His quest takes him across three continents, offering readers an in-depth look at a slave trade that is nauseatingly robust in the 21st century. While Clarke's turn at hero relies on several improbable circumstances – law enforcement in three separate countries let him come along on raids, for instance – the details of how children are bought and sold as commodities are depressingly grounded in reality.
Addison is clearly impassioned about his subject, and it's hard to think of a cause more noble than protecting children from the hell of sexual slavery. He's also thoroughly researched the worldwide slave trade and conveys its horrors without going into prurient detail.
Where “A Walk Across the Sun” falls down is its subplot. Presumably, the chapters involving Tom's estranged marriage are meant to give readers a breather from the misery of the sex trade. But with a girl in deepening peril, it was difficult to care whether Tom got back with Priya (and showcasing Tom's growing nobility by having him take up poetry – the title comes from one of his efforts – was a regrettable impulse).
The result is a novel that is sometimes more well-meaning than well-written. But there are worse mottos than Mother Teresa's: “Do the thing in front of you.” And if “A Walk Across the Sun” helps rescue even one girl, I'd be prepared to forgive a lot more than bad verse.