Cover Image: What Unbreakable Looks Like

What Unbreakable Looks Like

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I knew before even finishing What Unbreakable Looks Like that it was a definite five star read for me, and I honestly wish I could give it more. Kate McLaughlin has written such a powerful and emotional story and it needs to be on everybody's radar. 

Lex, formerly known as Poppy, was recently saved from a hotel where she and multiple other girls were being trafficked by a man named Mitch. Now that's she's out of the hotel, she has no idea how to stop being Poppy and go back to being Lex. She eventually moves in with her aunt and uncle, and although it takes time and a lot of work, she soon starts to learn that there are people she can count on and not every man is as awful as she once thought.

I'm honestly struggling with what to say because I don't think my words alone can express how important this story really is. What Lex has to go through in this book is horrific, and I'm not going to lie and say it was an easy read but I do feel it's a necessary one. There were definitely times where I felt sick to my stomach, but I couldn't stop because I needed to know how things would turn out for Lex. Kate doesn't hold back, at times it's very dark and heartwrenching, but at times it's also beautiful and moving because you get to see Lex's recovery process and you get to read about how she's able to love and trust those around her again. I cried numerous times while reading this, but I'm glad I did read it because I've never read anything like it before. This book is going to stick with me for awhile, and I think it will stick with you too.

Thank you so much to St. Martin's Press, Wednesday Books, and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book!
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A tough read about a subject that is more in the limelight these days than it maybe has been in the past. A brutally honest look at the aftermath in the life of a teenager who was trafficked and the ripples that continue to show up and catch her by surprise. Definitely not a book to be "enjoyed" but it was well-written and really brought to life the experience. 

I am undecided how I feel about the way that every major character was portrayed with their own significant trauma. While I understand that the vast majority of us will experience some type of trauma, in some ways it took some of the focus away. I also can see how that was done on purpose, and to illustrate that when we are trying to come out the other side of a traumatic experience, you need to still be aware that other people have/are suffering still and in many different ways.
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What Unbreakable Looks Like is a raw, heartbreaking, and hopeful story. It shows what a person can go through and come out on the other side, maybe not whole, but strong and courageous.

The story begins the night Lex and Ivy are rescued from the motel where they were sold for sex. At the hospital, Ivy runs away, back to her pimp. Lex stays, and her long road to recovery begins. It’s not easy, and there are many times she wants to go back. You may ask why someone would want to go back to a life of abuse. Often the girls are brainwashed by their pimps, and many are addicted to drugs. 

Lex is lucky. She has a fantastic support system and the will to go on. She doesn’t always make the right decisions, but I think that’s what makes the story feel so real.

I would give What Unbreakable Looks Like a mature rating for language and some sexual scenes. Although not detailed, it was enough to make me uncomfortable.

FTC Disclaimer: I received an ARC of the story from the publisher for my honest review.
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This book kept me reading as I became so engaged in the story and the desire for it to end happily. The story of one girl’s escape from trafficking and abuse and how she tried to rebuild her life. The other characters all have their own back story - domestic abuse, lesbianism and it could have felt contrived but it worked. The abuse is dealt with sensitively and it is a good way for young readers to understand how easy it is to be groomed by adults that were in a position of trust. Well done!
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3.5

I'm about a month late in reviewing this book. Honestly, it took me a while to read it. It covers some pretty serious topics which may not have been the best choice to tackle at this time.

The storyline was interesting. Our main character, Alexa, ends up stuck in a sex trafficking ring. She came from a home where she was easily given away. At first Alexa was treated like a queen but once she was trapped she became just one of many that was used and abused. Then one day she gets a fresh start but that fresh start has plenty of bumps along the way. We get to see some pretty amazing character growth as she adjusts to her new life. And I liked how she continued to deal with big issues and not just a history of being involved in sex trafficking.

There is something about the writing that didn't always flow. Some unnecessary details. At times it was a bit too much of first I did this. Then I did this. Then I did this. You get the idea. I also thought the pacing would speed up then slow down.

Ultimately though the interesting storyline, great character growth and tough topics that were explored were enough to keep me going.

***Advanced copy obtained from St. Martin's Press via Netgalley***
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What Unbreakable Looks Like was an intense and somewhat difficult for me to read. It is written in the eyes of a girl who has encountered horrible circumstances that no human should meet. She is a human trafficking survivor trying to find her way in the world of high school and what it means to be loved. A side that we hardly hear about, the thoughts and feelings of a rape victim. It is gut wrenching and heroic story. It also shows the ugly side and the reason some rape victims don't report or speak up. It sheds light on how things realistically are in the world today. 

Content warning: book does depict graphic abuse and sexual assault scenes. 
I received a copy to review, all opinions above are strictly my own.
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This book opens up with Lex (aka Poppy) and other young girls being rescued from a trafficking ring at a motel. Lex became involved in sex trafficking because of the company her strung out mom kept. Lex’s aunt Krys and her uncle Jamal open up their home to her, but first she is sent to a rehab facility with other girls who have been through what she has. 

Lex obviously has trust issues because of the monster that ripped away her innocence. She is grateful to her aunt and uncle for being there for her, but worries they’ll give up on her at some point just like everyone else has. 

This book really focuses on the aftermath of how Lex deals with her trauma and the healthy relationships she builds in her new life. Her aunt and uncle are a huge support system for her and with her every step of the way. I loved their love for Lex and how they showed up for their niece. 

Lex meets Elsa who lives down the street and they became instant friends. She also meets a young boy, Zack who reminds her that there are good men in the world that will respect her and protect her. Her relationships with these two characters helped her heal, helped her trust again and showed her that everyone has scars. 

Kate McLaughlin did a fantastic job with such a heavy and heartbreaking story. As horrified as I was to read about the experiences Lex had, I was also amazed by her resilience.  How someone can survive what she did and come out stronger is truly inspiring. I definitely cried reading this one, but there were also some very heartwarming and humorous moments too. I highly recommend picking this one up-it’s in my top five reads for this year. 

Thank you Netgalley for Wednesday Books for this copy- this book was published 6/23/20.
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This book! Where do I begin? Its not a light read by any means. However a very powerful one. You have a young girl whos mother does not care that her daughter is trafficked by a man she knows. However when the hotel she's in is busted she finds out does care. Her aunt and she will do everything she can to protect and love her. But is she worthy of this love? Everything comes with a price right?

I cried many times, sometimes because I was over joyed for Lex. She is far from fixed but she is learning how to live.

Trigger Warning: Human Trafficking, Drug Addiction, Stalking, Pedophilia, Miscarriage, Teen Pregnancy, Abuse, Sexual Assault, Rape, Violence, Self Harm, Attempted Suicide
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Sex-Trafficking is a tough and under-discussed topic. This book attempts to tackle this topic, The dialogue is unrealistic and all of the relationships feel devoid of emotion. Lex is a frustrating character.  The pacing was inconsistent, and I just didn't find myself into it because of the writing. 

I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
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This was such a heartbreaking yet beautiful book. I would definitely recommend this to someone who loves a good emotionally engaging book.
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The story is about one survivor of human trafficking, Alexa (Lex). It tells of her struggles, her strength, her despair, her isolation, her self-loathing and finding her strength, her will and her purpose to reclaim her life. We see what she has to deal with trying to move forward, and glimpses of what her life was like while being trafficked. She doesn't know who to trust, or what they might want in return for being nice to her. She doesn't think she is worthy of love and is always ready to be kicked out, or thrown into the streets. The way she is treated at her school was terrible. I found myself crying more than once while I read this story. So much she endured broke my heart and made me angry. Learning how their pimps or handlers groomed these young girls until they were basically brainwashed and held prisoner in disgusting surroundings hurt my heart and soul.

Kate McLaughlin tackled an extremely tough topic, yet handled it in such a way that the message was clear, without the explicit descriptions. The many victims/survivors of trafficking need acceptance and care if they are to move forward in their lives and the author did an admirable job of showing how that can be done. Lex was lucky, she had a family member willing to take her in and support her, all victims are not that lucky and often end up back in the life, commit suicide or are murdered.

This is a YA book, but certainly is one that adults would get much from as well. If this book helps someone avoid being trafficked or convinces a family member to step in and support someone, then that is a plus. I certainly had my eyes opened about this issue and it is scary. I thank Kate McLaughlin for her well written story. It was well-researched and while it might not have been explicit in its descriptions, it certainly gets the message across
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I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

This is going to be a hard review to write. I saw this book on NetGalley but wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it or not because of the heavy topic of sex trafficking. I’ve read some books about sexual assault, but this would be harder. But one day I got an e-mail from someone at Wednesday Books giving me an e-copy for an honest review. I decided to go ahead and do it.

This book was hard, I know I said it earlier, but it was hard. But a book that should be read. It isn’t based one a real person, but these women are real and the events in this book are real. We follow Alexa as she goes from living the life of a teenager being sex trafficked to trying to live a normal life. We see how she navigated her life before in memories, to how she copes with who she is, and what has been done to her. This book just kept breaking my heart. Alexa’s story broke my heart over and over again. I cried a lot with her and for her. Her life is one that no girl or boy should every life through.

I read this book in one day, mostly because it was pretty short, but also because I didn’t want to linger in it too much. Too much pain. I have 4 girls of my own and man if this book didn’t make me even more protective over my babies. And I am pretty dang protective of them. There is not much more that I feel I can say about this book. If you want to learn more about this topic, this is a book that you should read. Again, be warned, it’s a hard one to get through, but something that we should all be made aware of.
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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.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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This isn't a book that goes down easy, but I thought it was very good. 

Lex is a white teenage girl who was trafficked by a family friend. He groomed her, seduced her, coerced into sex-work, and then entrapped her in a situation that she didn't feel she could escape. When she and the other girls who have been trafficked with her are excised from their situation, Lex is adopted by an aunt, and begins the challenging work of confronting what life looks like after an experience that stole her innocence and her identity.

She's confronting trauma from all sides, and she's also addressing new demons, as the people in her life come to terms with her past – some of them by assuming she was a willing participant in a situation that was truly tantamount to serial rape.

The book explores experiences of trauma that I found rang very true. Feelings of guilt and complicity. Feelings of emptiness. A fear of never being normal again. To me, this last was really the core of the story. Is it possible to recover from trauma, or do these experiences change you forever? 

I do want to highlight that the book does not ever address sex work in the sense of adult women or men who work in sex industries by choice. This is a story about trafficked children and teens, not about empowered sex workers. It may be outside the scope of the story, especially for a YA audience, but I was a little uncomfortable with the unspoken implication that all prostitution is born of exploitation. I know the arguments that transactions are not consent, but I know many women who work in sex because they genuinely love their work and their relationships with their clients. And I think it's important that we acknowledge that empowered women (and men) can choose to work in these industries, and should have access to support systems to health care and safety.

I think it's important to acknowledge the role that race plays in this story as well. Lex is a white victim, and is said to be the only victim in her her community who does not go back to the life. When she's talking about her experiences while trafficked, she uses vocal mannerisms that adopt a lot of language and speech patterns from Black communities. This is acknowledged briefly as not being a language she has ownership over. Though I read this as trade talk she picked up while trafficked, it did read a little like appropriation, or like there was an implication that Black culture and illicit/criminal behavior are linked. ...I think a more painful, jarring approach may have been to depict Lex trying to describe her experiences while breaking away from the language that may have distanced her from the self who was trafficked. To see how difficult it is to lay her experiences bare in language that is not borrowed.

In terms of on-page diversity, most of the characters read as white. There is a black woman who is depicted as the most beautiful woman in the world (more beautiful than Beyonce!)....but she's a cop, and I'm struggling to see cops depicted in any storytelling medium, when I want to see them out of our lives for good.

Lex does connect with new friends over the course of the story, including an excellent lesbian bestie, a very smart and incredibly tall mixed race guy, and a physically disabled friend of the family.

For me, the ending, and the resolution to the central questions, felt a little cleaner and clearer than I expected for Lex in her situation and timeline. I would have liked to see the story end with a more dissonant note, or to end with the question still hanging in the air.

I'm picking some of the details apart because I do think this subject matter is important and very charged, and we have to be very conscientious about how we depict these cultures and experiences, in a way that invites compassion, not pity or disgust, doesn't challenge the morality of victims or willing workers, and doesn't imply that any one experience is universal. As much as I challenged this one at every turn, I found that it did resonate, and was pretty brutally honest most of the time.
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Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC. This was a sad and inspiring story about Poppy who just couldn't find her place after being rescued from captivity. I loved reading about her strength and ability to come out from the darkness to the light.
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[Invited to be part of the blog tour—excerpt posted 6/17/20: https://yabooksdaily.wordpress.com/2020/06/17/blog-tour-what-unbreakable-looks-like-by-kate-mclaughlin-excerpt/]

Review posted to Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3358961407
Thank you so much to Wednesday Books for providing me with an Advanced Review Copy and inviting me to be a part of the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.

I'm part of the blog tour for this book, but only posting an excerpt, but I really wanted to write a review anyway and get some thoughts out here because if I am being completely honest, I'm a bit baffled by the high rating I'm seeing for this book on Goodreads and the praise I'm seeing in its reviews. I have a lot of thoughts.

I spent this past semester abroad (well....half abroad. Thanks corona.) studying "prostitution" and the sex trade, so I was really excited by the premise for this book. And what I got from this book was a novel that felt disingenuous, unrealistic, and careless.

To start, the actual prose of this novel was, to put it bluntly, very poorly written and very confusing at times. I couldn't follow sentences well, and so many of them just didn't make easy sense. It read like a rough draft. As a result, it was hard to see where growth and progress for Lex's character was coming from. I never got a really good sense of where her head was at because I felt like I was being talked at, not shown, her person. And character development was key here.

When Lex began this journey, I knew it had to be that: a journey. And yet, somehow, inexplicably, she seemed to move past her old self and into her new life.....easily and too quickly for comfort. She had a lot of setbacks, as were expected, and I appreciated them. But from one moment to the next, you got mixed messages. She was fine, she wasn't, she was fine. And that is very realistic to trauma, but it was confusing here because then a switch flipped and she was like "I'm an activist now. I'm over my past. Sex can be healthy and good for me again," and like....it just. It takes work. And I didn't feel like that work was being shown on the page.

The author also portrayed Lex multiple times throughout the text as being above the other women around her or from her old trafficking ring. Even when she had supposedly gained all this insight, she would think "Oh, that girl is still so haunted. I'm glad that's not the nightmare I live in anymore!" which I don't think was appropriate. This is a novel for young readers, about a topic that goes unseen and unheard not only in literature but in the news, in the media, in life. There's absolutely no need for that kind of rhetoric here. And as someone who has spoken to real sex workers (obviously, not saying Lex was a sex worker because she was not—she was trafficked and those two cannot be conflated), police officers in Europe, lawyers, activists, etc. I know that for many, solidarity and an understanding of all experiences is what is necessary in these conversations. I wish that had been shown here. I cannot claim to speak to or for anyone and everyone, but I was disheartened by that.

I was glad to see that Lex was moving past her sexual trauma, but my god, a sex scene after she finishes sitting on a panel and her boyfriend sobs thinking of everything she has had done to her and what she has gone through? There are just so, so many other ways that that could've gone which would've been more conducive to a healthy and sex-positive scene.

But the real humdinger was how quickly the novel moved past Lex's assault in school. It was dealt with, but too, too, too quickly. It should've had ramifications that were more lasting. An experience like that for a real trafficked person would've opened up a huge can of worms, and I just didn't get that at all. And I was confused and disappointed by how unrealistically Lex dealt with that new trauma. While everyone deals with trauma in different ways, at the very least such a plot point deserved far more time and care.

Also? So many questions left un-interrogated and loosely tied up with her former pimp's crimes, both old and new, and the way he and Lex's old family stalked her. There was nothing to grasp there.

Overall, I'm just sorely disappointed. I'm disappointed because this is the kind of story, premise-wise, that we need to be telling in YA. It's an issue young readers need to be introduced to. And I felt like it was handled carelessly (for example......Lex's aunt and uncle saying they're going to adopt her when.....she's 18?). There's just so much good work that could've been done here. I felt like I barely saw any work done at all. And there are a lot of trafficked persons in the world who deserve better than this kind of representation of their experiences, imho.
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The book is about:
What Unbreakable Looks Like is a story about going through the worst things in life and the journey to moving on and recovery. Lex became a victim of human trafficking when a friend of her mother took her and stuck her in a hotel to do sexual favors for strangers. The motel got raided and she gets rescued by the police. This story is told through the mind of Alexa/Lex and how she processes her pain and her past while dealing with her present and finding the chance of healing.

What drew me in:
I had doubts about going through reading What Unbreakable Looks Like when Meghan from Wednesday Books reached out to me. It’s because when I read the blurb, I know that this book will hit quite hard. Despite this fact, I took on the chance to read this story because this is not one that we hear everyday. Human trafficking is very real and it happens all over the world. This book is a way to spread awareness, especially for young adults, and I was very eager to find out how the author Kate McLaughlin chooses to send the message.

Characters & connections:

The plot of the story is very character-driven. It all revolves around Alexa – her thoughts, her feelings, and her actions. At first, there was not enough introspecting for Lex to deal with her pain. There were lots of denial and it was like she was withdrawn from the scenes within her life and was just a casual observer. However, more of Alexa’s thoughts and emotions were expressed as the story unfolds, making the experience of knowing her even more whole.

On the question if this was an accurate portrayal of a victim of sexual trafficking, I don’t really know. And again, it is important to acknowledge that people react differently to the challenges that life throws at them. This story might be 100% accurate to some, and that would be more than enough reason to tell this story the way it is.

Everything I liked:
Throughout the process of reading this book, I felt my heart clench so many times and that was the best part. It delivered a strong message the way it should be – raw and real. Though it was difficult to keep on reading the triggering content, I have to agree that this book gave us a glimpse at a very important issue that is not often discussed.

Overall thoughts:
If you are someone who can survive all the possible triggers I have mentioned above, you should give this book a chance. It will bring you to a journey that will bring you to a different life perspective – possibly, give you hope and entice you to help support causes like this one.
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TRIGGER WARNING: Human trafficking, sexual assault, violence, suicide, self-harm

What an incredible and important story. This is a work of fiction based on a harsh reality of the darkness hidden in our world. This book will be hard to read and make you uncomfortable at times, but it pales in comparison to what the victims of sex trafficking go through. This gives us a glimpse at a girl’s reintegration into society and her journey to find her self-worth again. 

The Story: This story was definitely uncomfortable and difficult to read mentally and emotionally. But, I’m so glad I did. Kate McLaughlin brings us into the world of sex trafficking, and the havoc it wreaks upon not only its victims, but the victim’s family and friends as well. The story does a great job of giving us Alexa’s story following her recovery from being trafficked. It shows the struggles she goes through both mentally and physically. I think this story does an incredible job of showing us a realistic glimpse into the mind of a sex trafficking survivor and the constant turmoil they go through day in and day out in an effort to rebuild their lives. 

The Flow: The story is told in a chronological order from our main character, Alexa or “Lex’s” perspective. There are occasional flashbacks to her time at the motel when she was being trafficked that add to the current timeline of the story. This book was quick to read, despite its emotionally difficult subject matter and I ended up reading it in two days.

The Characters: Kate McLaughlin does an amazing job of giving us characters with a lot of depth and emotion, especially Alexa, the main character. It was incredible to see how much she grew and developed from the time she was recovered from trafficking to the end of the novel. I also thought the minor characters were very well done. Each character had their own unique personality and their own strengths that they brought to the story and would lend to Alexa to help her through her recovery. 

In all, this was such a good book, despite being so mentally tough to read. I truly think everyone should read this one as it gives us a small glimpse into the reality of sex trafficking in our world today. 

*Thank you to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for an early copy of this book in exchange for my honest review*
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There's no doubt this book deals with an important, and unfortunately unexplored, theme of sex trafficking especially as a story for the YA demographic. The story is raw and a difficult read; it's evident that the stark reality of it all can impact the readers in an unexpected yet important manner since many teens are sadly living or have lived through this nightmare of sexual assault.

However, the execution was bad. The narration felt off right from the start; the pacing is bumpy and everything is mushed together in an often incoherent manner. A benefit of doubt can be given to the premise of the story since the theme is gritty that the atmosphere and tone is purposefully hazy. But there wasn't a single chapter where the voice strengthened so the expectations were clearly not met.

Furthermore, The use of AAVE and the N-word in the writing style is absolutely disgraceful and inappropriate and could've been easily avoided. While I couldn't have easily picked on the vernacular influence since I'm and have always been situated outside the American continent, the N-word was striking and hard to ignore. 

It's clear that the book could've made a strong impact since the character growth was good and the romantic inclinations while recovering from the past torturous experiences is gradually developed. But there are evidently wrong aspects of this book and that doesn't allow me to highly or even slightly recommend it unless someone wishes to pick this up at their own accord.
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This is a hard book to review. Not only because the topics addressed are serious and needed in this genre, but also because I'm very torn on the overall effect & story.

There are elements of this book I absolutely adored, but there's also several issues that didn't sit right with me at all. And what's so difficult is that the parts that were good truly shined (ex: Lex's support group), but the parts that were flawed were seriously disconcerting. I'm trying to determine whether my expectations or own relationship to the material is factoring in to my critique and until I can separate my feelings from the facts, I'm going to withhold a full review. 

At the end of the day, I believe this book has the potential to be a very powerful tool for readers that have been exposed to sexual abuse and/or dissociate in efforts to cope. But with that being said, I don't feel like this will land amongst readers looking for a more emotionally-open MC.

Because this is a dark read please note the trigger warnings (most of which involving minors) before diving in: rape, sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence, sex trafficking, drug use and abuse, violence, self harm and mentions of suicide, slut shaming, miscarriage, murder, use of the N word, grooming tactics, etc.
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