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4 stars

This is a very good YA book about the obstacles one girl faces as she tries to piece together her life after being trafficked as a sex slave.

Lex was taken at a very young age and kept prisoner by a man that changed her name to Poppy, drugged her and forced her to work as a sex slave. After she and the other girls are rescued, her aunt takes her in and gives her a safe home to live. But just because she’s living somewhere new doesn’t mean that Lex is able to go back to a normal life.

Unable to trust anyone or anything, Lex battles her memories and the voices in her head telling her she doesn’t deserve good things. More than once Lex acts out and contemplates going back to her former life. At least there she knows what to expect and understands that she can’t trust anyone but herself. But, with the help and understanding of her therapist, friends and family, she starts to make progress. Until she’s sexually assaulted by a boy she thought was her boyfriend and his friends.

After the event, Lex shuts down. She resists telling anyone because she fears no one will believe her and it’s just easier to shut out the world and go to the safe space inside her mind. But the story gets out anyway, and when she’s forced into the spotlight, Lex learns that she really doesn’t deserve bad things to happen to her. She decides since all eyes are on her anyway, she may as well use her voice to educate others and help fight against those who would continue to traffic young girls.

Although the subject matter is very difficult to read, the author does a good job of walking the line between giving enough details to tell the story, but not being overly explicit. This is a YA book, although I would skew it toward the upper range of young adult, as it does deal with sexual assault, rape, drug use and violence.

The author does a superb job in giving the reader a glimpse into the psyche of Lex. After being let down by everyone in her life, it’s hard for Lex to trust. When things are going well, Lex gets scared because she doesn’t trust that it is real or will last, so she acts out to test those around her. Conversely, Lex tries to pretend that everything is ok, buries her feelings and hides bad things that happen for fear her aunt will think she’s too much trouble and send her away. Lex is a complicated character, and it is heartbreaking, and yet uplifting, to see her growth throughout the book. Added to all that, Lex also deals with the rejection of her mother and the complicated feelings that go with understanding the abuse, and yet still yearning for validation and love from a parent.

There are a few key supporting characters that help Lex after she’s rescued. These characters are a bit too understanding, thoughtful and supportive and always seem to say JUST the right thing at the right time. This is where the book fell short a bit for me, which is why I rated it down a star. I think if the author had depicted these characters having a bit more trouble handling everything that Lex was going through, and perhaps even making a few missteps, it would have been more true to the story the author is trying to tell.

I’m not gonna lie, this is a hard book to read. But, it’s an important book and very well written. I highly recommend you read this book.

I was given a free copy of this book by NetGalley and Wednesday Books in exchange for an honest review.

Book Excerpt:


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

Kate McLaughlin

Author Bio:
KATE McLAUGHLIN likes people, so much so that she spends her days making up her own. She likes writing about characters who are bent, but not broken – people who find their internal strength through friends, strife and sometimes humor. When she’s not writing, she likes studying people, both real and fictional. She also likes playing board games with friends, talking and discovering new music. A proud Nova Scotian, she’ll gladly tell you all about the highest tides in the world, the magical creation known as a donair, and people who have sofas in their kitchens. Currently, she lives in Connecticut with her husband and four cats.

Early Praise:
“With unflinching honesty, What Unbreakable Looks Like exposes the injuries and scars we wear on our skins or in our souls. Hidden damage is tragically common, but helpful others who dared embrace hope invite Alexa to step onto the healing path. This novel may offer a springboard for a reader’s own healing or foster empathy for life’s walking wounded.”- Liz Coley, author of international bestseller Pretty Girl-13

“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

“This is a powerful book about a sobering topic that I found myself thinking about for days after I completed it. It is wonderfully poignant, painfully real, and even laugh out loud funny at times. Not everyone can truly wrap their minds around the trauma these victims endure and yet somehow, despite all of it, are still just regular kids. But Kate McLaughlin gets it. ‘Lex’ is truly what unbreakable looks like and you’ll fall in love with her spirit.” – Tanya Compagnone, Trooper First Class

“Sex trafficking continues to seep into all our communities. In this novel, Kate McLaughlin brings to life the trauma that transpires in youth who forced into the life of sex trafficking. Her novel is a reminder that each of us can make a difference in someone’s life.” – Dina R. St. George, MSW, Juvenile Re-Entry Unit OCPD

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