Thank you again to St. Martin’s Press and Wednesday Books for a copy of this book to review. I appreciate you reaching out to me to be on this tour, and I hope that you can appreciate my honest review.
What Unbreakable Looks Like
by Kate McLaughlin
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: June 23, 2020
Genre: YA Contemporary
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.
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.
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to St. Martin’s Press, Netgalley, and Wednesday Books for this free copy. All quotes in this review are taken from the Advanced Reader Copy and may change in final publication.
It’s been a very long time since I haven’t liked anything about a book, enough to not continue to read it, and unfortunately this was the case for me. I feel like it wasn’t the topic that was a bother for me – although the premise of talking about teenage girls who were victims of sex trafficking is pretty intense and not something that I would pick up on my own – but more of the prose and the writing itself.
I unfortunately wasn’t able to get very far in this book. I think I stopped either on the second or third chapter, which is extremely rare for me. In the first chapter, we are seeing the tail end of what happened with the main character Poppy (real name Alexis and eventually goes by Lex) during her time as a sex slave. I say that pretty blatantly because her and five other teenage girls were locked up on the second floor of some seedy motel and forced to have sex with men for drugs and money. The girls got the drugs, their pimp got the money.
I don’t usually comment on how someone speaks in a novel, especially if they speak differently from me because I’ve been teased before for not “speaking Black” and to me that’s insulting and rude. But I felt really confused that the kind of verbiage that the main character was using was reminiscent to AAVE but coming from a white teenager. I’m pretty sure she was 16 if I remember correctly, because she mentioned not being 18 yet so she couldn’t go to jail. I also know that when you’re around people that speak a certain way or use certain slang, sometimes you start to mimic that kind of speech. It’s like growing up in Hawaii and then trying to speak Pidgin because everyone else is, even if it may sound off coming from you. I honestly never felt comfortable speaking Pidgin even if I was born and raised in Hawaii because I didn’t feel right saying those words wrong or using that culture for my own benefit. I don’t know if I’m saying that correctly, but hopefully that makes some sense.
This was also something a fellow book blogger mentioned in her review, and this is a person that I absolutely trust with her book analyses, and unfortunately things ended up happening where the author commented on their space to defend her actions. I don’t think this was okay, and I feel like she wasn’t receptive to the feedback that people said. It made me feel really uncomfortable and weird, and even though I tried to get through this novel, I just couldn’t. I agreed with my blogger friend and the more that I tried to get through it, the more it just made me feel icky. Maybe not the best word to describe my feelings, but it just didn’t sit right with me.
I understand that the author took the speech patterns of real victims of human trafficking that she interviewed as research for her novel, and I understand that she may have wanted to stay true to what she learned (I’m totally spacing on that term right now, I’m sorry), but then it comes off as a problem. It sounds like a white author taking advantage of AAVE for a white character when Black people aren’t allowed to use AAVE without being deemed as “ghetto” or “uneducated” or “thuggish”.
I also feel like my friend’s review explains my feelings a lot better for me, and I think she was able to go more into the story, unlike me. I’m sorry that this is a book that I wasn’t able to give any positive feedback on, but I hope that the topic of human trafficking can be better explored in the YA genre but done better.