"Raw, unflinching, and authentic, Kate McLaughlin's thoughtful What Unbreakable Looks Like carefully crafts a story exposing the vulnerability of underage trafficked girls and what it takes to begin the process of healing from sexual trauma."–Christa Desir, author, advocate, and founding member of The Voices and Faces Project Lex was taken–trafficked–and now she’s Poppy. Kept in a hotel with other girls, her old life is a distant memory. But when the girls are rescued, she doesn’t quite know how to be Lex again. After she moves in with her aunt and uncle, for the first time in a long time, she knows what it is to feel truly safe. Except, she doesn’t trust it. Doesn't trust her new home. Doesn’t trust her new friend. Doesn’t trust her new life. Instead she trusts what she shouldn’t because that's what feels right. She doesn’t deserve good things. But when she is sexually assaulted by her so-called boyfriend and his friends, Lex is forced to reckon with what happened to her and that just because she is used to it, doesn’t mean it is okay. She’s thrust into the limelight and realizes she has the power to help others. But first she’ll have to confront the monsters of her past with the help of her family, friends, and a new love. Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like is a gritty, ultimately hopeful novel about human trafficking through the lens of a girl who has escaped the life and learned to trust, not only others, but in herself.
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Her road to recovery is troubled, particularly by the way that others react to her in her daily life. Between the loving care of her aunt and uncle who have taken her in as a daughter and the good friends she makes along the way, Alexa may be able to survive her past and let it make her stronger.
What I loved: The book does a great job of showing how difficult it can be for victims of human trafficking to leave it behind them. They may not always be going home to a safe situation (eg, Alexa's mother's husband was involved in her being taken) and they may not have the social support (therapy, loved ones, friends) to help them recover. The book shows the paths they may take in the other girls and the things that Alexa considers herself. It also shows the importance of social support and therapy in aiding the process.
Recovery is difficult and takes a long time. It is hard for the girls to trust men or boys again, and we see this not only through Alexa's eyes but also the other survivors she meets. It felt raw and genuine. The other characters who support her are golden, and it was great to see them also pointing out fallacies in her trained thought process and get some (albeit not great) justice.
This is a challenging read, and I would note that it does talk about drug abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault (both before and after), and human trafficking. These are described (though not in incredible levels of detail, still quite a bit at times), so it would be good for readers to know about these triggers before picking it up.
Final verdict: Gritty and moving, WHAT UNBREAKABLE LOOKS LIKE is a compelling story about recovery and the problem of human trafficking that persists today. This is not by any means a light read, but it does give a lot of hope and imparts a lot of knowledge about trafficking and recovery.