What Unbreakable Looks Like – Kate McLaughlin

He names them after flowers. Daisy. Ivy. Iris.

This is Poppy’s story. She’s one of the lucky ones, if you can call her that, considering all of the trauma she has experienced. He called her Poppy. Her real name is Alexa.

Am I ever going to feel like a whole person again?

If you are on the fence, for whatever reason, about how crucial having supportive people around you after trauma is, this is the book for you. I don’t know how extraordinary Lex’s experiences of trafficking are, although I suspect they’re fairly typical. What is extraordinary about Lex’s story is the support she is given from so many people once she’s finally rescued from the life.

The matter of fact way that the events at the beginning of the story are told matched Lex’s flat affect, a result of the trauma she’s experienced, the withdrawal she’s currently experiencing and the dissociation that has helped her survive. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the portrayal of the survivors of human trafficking but given how much I could relate to the trauma impacts of sexual assault that were explored through Lex’s thoughts, feelings and actions, I have to assume they were also pretty much spot on.

This might sound silly (they’re characters in a book, after all) but if you have experienced sexual assault, take what you need from Krys. Take what you need from Jamal, Zack, Elsa, Detective Willis and Dr. Lisa. Each of them, over the course of this book, will say something that will resonate with you. Something you wish someone had said to you. Something you wish you were worthy of hearing (trust me; you are). Personally, I’m trying to figure out a way to adopt Krys or vice versa; I know I need to hear what she’s got to say.

“Honey, you’re here. Sometimes that’s all the strength you need.”

If you’ve experienced sexual assault and haven’t been believed or have needed to find a way to heal without the love and support of the people who should be there for you, I’m so sorry. You deserve to be believed. You deserve to feel safe. You deserve to be loved, safely. You didn’t ask for it, whatever ‘it’ may be, to happen to you and it was not your fault.

“You did nothing wrong. I’m going to keep telling you that until you believe it.”

So, this probably reads like a PSA at this point but, even if there is only a slim chance that someone reading this needs to hear that what happened to them wasn’t their fault, I need to say it.

Prepare yourself for some ugly crying as you hear Lex’s story. If you’re like me, some tears will come as a result of what has been done to her but even more will fall because you’re just so damn proud of her resilience. I was so still as I read this book that I thought I could almost hear my heart breaking at the same time I felt it.

Did I have “Zack is too good to be true” on repeat in my head as I read? Absolutely! Do I hope there really are Zack’s in the world? Do I ever!

When books navigate as much potentially triggering content as this one does it can be difficult to figure out where the line should be drawn between enough information to show the gravity of the situation and graphic content whose only purpose seems to be the shock value. This book walked the line perfectly for me. I learned things about trafficking, particularly around how it can begin, that made my blood boil but the details that were provided, while obviously upsetting, felt necessary to the telling of Lex’s story.

I’m leaving this story (for now) with the wannabe activist inside me trying to figure out the way I can best support people like Lex. Although I’m all sorts of sad and mad after having read Lex’s story, my takeaway is hope. Hope for healing. Hope for more people to understand how to support survivors. Hope that enough people will get riled up over human trafficking that, sooner rather than later, more people don’t experience Lex’s story firsthand.

Content warnings include alcoholism, child pornography, death by suicide, domestic violence, drug use, human trafficking, mental health, miscarriage, racism (challenged), self harm, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and violence.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Wednesday Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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 realises 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.

One thought on “What Unbreakable Looks Like – Kate McLaughlin

  1. Pingback: Book Haul – 22 to 28 May 2020 – Schizanthus Nerd

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