Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing me with all of this information!
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.
I’m overwhelmingly grateful to NetGalley for the eARC of this hard-hitting and devastating novel; and to St. Martin’s Press for including me in this blog tour! I haven’t ever really researched much into sex trafficking; but I did vaguely know of the horrors within. It is a terrifying reality that countless kids are thrust into, but it is a topic that remains mostly untouched whether it be in fiction or nonfiction. Kate not only does an excellent job of opening the door to conversations about this scourge, but in doing so, she brings readers a story that gives us an unapologetic look at the lives of these young adults that have been irrevocably changed forever while also inserting a spark of hope. There is the ever-present threat of danger, the fear of being too broken, and the struggle of returning to a normalcy that has since left you behind– but the protagonist shows us all how strong the human spirit is, and no matter what your circumstances, you deserve happiness.
Alexa, better known as Lex, was taken by a man she thought she could trust and was then coerced to transform into Poppy; a girl who, along with several other ‘flowers’, was forced to have sex with many different clients. She watched captured girls come and go, made bonds with a few, and attempted to maintain a sense of self while being plied with drugs and beaten to keep her docile and submissive. She never thought she would see anything else but the hotel she was confined to, and she was almost resigned to that fact. Then, one day, the police arrived. They brought her to a nearby hospital to be examined, and when she is eventually discharged, she is taken in by an estranged aunt who facilitates her recovery. Lex endures rehab, makes new friends, trusts the wrong boys, loses people she loves, becomes the center for gossip at school, and maybe even begins to fall in love for the first time– all while wondering how much of it she deserves, or even how much of it is real.
I found Lex tremendously powerful as a character because she has been through so much and yet is still able to see the good in people and persevere through so much pain and trauma. She loses so much after she leaves the hotel, and both in spite of and because of that, the development that she has from page one to the end of the book is like night and day: the reader watches her build her self worth back and though it takes a long time, she also finds a sense of security and belonging that she had never felt before. This novel truly shows the magic of a good support system, as Lex is surrounded by love from her aunt, Krys, from her release on. In addition, all the people she meets afterwards act as a wall around her, protecting her from setbacks and hardships. All of these stalwart figues let her find out who she is in her own time, but love her every step of the way. Their influence reminds readers to treat those you meet in life fairly, as you never know what scars lie just beneath the surface.
Upon learning Lex’s history, readers and fellow characters alike will make snap judgments about her. Those people could never know her penchant for books and research, her affinity for public speaking, her strength, or the love she is capable of. She is a truly captivating protagonist, and though this story is heart-wrenching, just know that it is also a beacon of hope. Sometimes saving yourself will be the hardest thing you ever have to face. If, instead of discovering your own value, you’re taught your ‘worth’ at a young age, it’s going to be hard to overcome that, but it is always possible to change. You have the power to defy the world as it tries to take you down. It is cold and it is unforgiving, but you can find your people and yourself through it all. No matter how broken you feel, we are all stronger than we know. Lex’s tale is sure to remind us all what unbreakable looks like; and if you look in the mirror, I know you’ll see it too.
Find Kate on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/alterkates
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. She’s the author of What Unbreakable Looks Like.
Check out what others have to say about the novel!
“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
Click below to preview the first chapter of this riveting YA debut!