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Review: What Unbreakable Looks Like by Katie McLaughlin

What Unbreakable Looks Like by Katie McLaughlin

What Unbreakable Looks Like
Katie McLaughlin
Wednesday Books
Published June 23, 2020

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About What Unbreakable Looks Like

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.

My Review

I found this book really addicting. It’s intense– Lex is recovering from being trafficked, and some scenes show her in a recovery program and then transitioning to a life with her aunt and uncle. Some chapters open with memories from her past. Most focus on her relationships with the girls and her early relationship with Mitch, the man who trafficked her.

Trafficking is a really grim topic, and the scars that life left behind on Lex are obvious. Her mistrust, her tendency to disassociate, her ability to use her body to try to control others, all of that comes through on the page without apology.

But I felt like the story is almost this love letter to recovery, and to hope. What if a girl got out and found a community who supported her through her recovery? What if she found the courage and strength to speak about what happened to her?

WHAT UNBREAKABLE LOOKS LIKE shows an incredible (at times perhaps unbelievable) transformation that belongs to Lex. While she has great support, this journey is about her, and her power to become the woman she wants to be. It’s an empowering story, packed with hope and courage.

There are definitely some potential triggers, though, involving sexual assault and trafficking as well as physical abuse. See my notes below for more details.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 17 up.

Most characters are white. Lex’s uncle is Black. Her friend Zack is half Hawaiian.

I read another review of the book in which the reviewer commented on the use of AAVE (African American Vernacular English), especially when Lex was talking about her life while she was being trafficked. I sort of noticed it, but hadn’t really thought about how that might be offensive. It sounded like the author was trying to model the character’s speech after girls she’d interviewed and the way they talked, and maybe she didn’t think about how it would sound to Black readers. A note of explanation may have been helpful.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity and some crude sexual language used throughout the book.

Romance/Sexual Content – TRIGGER WARNING
Explicit scenes leading up to and referencing sexual assault. References to and brief descriptions of sexual trafficking.

Some scenes showing sex and referencing or leading up to oral sex.

Spiritual Content
Lex doesn’t believe in God. She and her friends watch Jesus Christ Superstar and talk about the rumor that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. She also really has a connection with Mary’s song in the musical about how she feels about Jesus but isn’t able to act on those feelings or feels a disconnect between her feelings and actions.

Violent Content
References to self-harm and suicide. Several references to girls being beaten to death or physically abused. References to a man beating his wife and son.

Drug Content
Lex is a recovering drug addict. She attends a party where pot and alcohol are consumed, but she doesn’t participate.

Note: I received a free copy of WHAT UNBREAKABLE LOOKS LIKE in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support the costs of running this blog.