We planned to jump off the cliff,
You told me to close my eyes.
I jumped with my eyes closed.
As I woke up in the sky,
I realized you were still on the top.
–I Trusted You, ever Recovering. ML
I think we, as a country, have little understanding of how prevalent a problem sex trafficking actually is. In reading Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like, I guess a part of me had the hope of understanding it more. And I’ll be honest, despite the title, I have to admit that reading this book shattered a part of me. In a way, that’s a good thing. Sometimes in life, we have grown and strengthened pieces of ourselves to see the world beneath a certain light. It is only in breaking down those pieces that we can allow them to grow in a new way, one that doesn’t permit us to live with a blindfold over our eyes.
Can you imagine a world in which teenagers are taken from their homes, seduced almost, and in a few short months sold and forced to have their bodies used, broken, and battered all for the pleasure of those who pay for the ability to do it? In my own sheltered life, I recall being thoroughly shocked the day I learned sex trafficking was actually something that not only continues to happen but happens on a shockingly large scale.
What Unbreakable Looks Like is just a peek into this world.
Alexa (Lex), or Poppy as her pimp calls her, was just a Sophomore when a friend of her alcoholic mother’s boyfriend began grooming her. Mitch brings her gifts, tells her how important and beautiful she is, and slowly pulls her away from her life and into a hell she never fathoms escape from. The story begins with a police raid that rescues Lex and puts her in the care of her aunt, setting her on a harrowing journey of recovery. This journey, fraught with countless difficulties and struggles, was painful to read.
And despite being painful and, at times, triggering, Lex’s story is so incredibly important.
The fact of the matter is that the more people are kept in the dark about the fact that this is a very real and very serious problem that still happens today, the more innocent girls we’ll have subjected to this sort of life. And that’s heartbreaking. In that sense, I am grateful that this book exists. While it is a work of fiction, it sheds a light on very true things that happen within a subset of our world and culture that the majority of people would prefer to just ignore or pretend isn’t as bad as it is. Lex got off a lot easier than most.
Her story remains difficult to read. I’ve left this book deeply uncomfortable. But it is the world that allows things like this to happen, most often to young girl’s in poor situations, that I am uncomfortable with. What Unbreakable Looks Like merely opened a window through which I could see the truths of these horrors.
In general, this is an immensely important story.
It handles the truths and terrors of human trafficking well, showing readers just the right amount of disturbing experiences to truly set building blocks for some kind of understanding whilst keeping everything from going too far. In a large way, this book has the ability to educate many who read it. It has educated me in some ways, too.
I will admit that there is room to question the author’s handling of race. First, in the way that the two girls of color involved in human trafficking are both described negatively. Secondly, in the use of the ‘n’ word. While there are people of color who are written in a positive light, Lex’s uncle and the policewoman who first rescues her and remains on her case, it is unfortunate that of the girls who have gone through what Lex has, those of color are the ones she describes poorly.
Overall, I see What Unbreakable Looks Like as an important novel that I hope will increase awareness of what is a disgusting and terrifying problem that should be addressed as soon as possible.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.