What Unbreakable Looks Like

A Novel

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Pub Date 23 Jun 2020 | Archive Date 09 Dec 2020
St. Martin's Press, Wednesday Books


"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

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.

"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...

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ISBN 9781250173805
PRICE $19.99 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

***Thanks to NetGalley for providing me a complimentary copy of WHAT UNBREAKABLE LOOKS LIKE by Kate McLaughlin in exchange for my honest review.***

Reading the first page of WHAT UNBREAKABLE LOOKS LIKE, I felt a rare tingle in my stomach letting my know I was reading something special. A few chapters in, I realized WHAT UNBREAKABLE LOOKS LIKE might be one of my all time favorite books.

Kate McLaughlin blew me away with this special, poignant story of Alexa, a teenager trafficked, now living with her aunt and uncle. Lexie’s pitch perfect voice oozed distrusted and pain as she slowly healed and learned to love without abuse.

I loved the support Lex received from the police officer, her teachers and principal and friends and hoped that in real life, trafficking survivors have the same support system.

WHAT UNBREAKABLE LOOKS LIKE should be required reading for teens to teach consent, illustrate bullying/slut-shaming and how to support our friends and family who have survived trauma.

I know I’ll reread WHAT UNBREAKABLE LOOKS LIKE again, like I do with all my favorite books.

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To use my son's words, this book shattered my heart into a million billion pieces. But then puts it back together. This book tackles so many tough subjects that are so necessary. Will definitely be recommending ut.

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This book was received from the Author, and Publisher WednesdayBooks,, in exchange for an honest review. Opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are completely my own

Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like, is a dramatic, raw in your face fictional account of human trafficking. Alexa, is a innocent 16 year old, with red hair and blued girl, who’s home life is dysfunctional. Living with an alcoholic mother and her mothers boyfriend, has made her an easy target. Vulnerable and looking for attention, she attracts a guy who zones in on her. He brings her gifts and feeds into self esteem by complimenting her. All the while he is actually grooming her, and when she realizes what has happened, she is trapped, and the nightmare has begun.

Given the name Poppy, she is slowly losing her self with the beatings, drugs and abuse. She is mentally and emotionally In constant survival mode, that when she is finally rescued from this horrific vile world. She doesn’t know how to acclimate herself into a normal functioning environment. Her aunt takes her in, and shows her real love, and Lex is able to start the long journey on the road to finding herself once more.
This exceptional riveting storyline captures Lex’s horrific experience, and it shows you how vulnerable young people are to this incredible growing problem. The author gives a compelling voice to the survivors and anyone who is fighting this ongoing worldwide growing epidemic.

This compelling book will blow you away, an emotional, gut wrenching.
The characters are fleshed out and well developed. The blurred hidden world of how young people lured into a nightmarish existence is depicted through the pages of the authors descriptive writing. The plot line was seamless, from start to finish.
Lex’s story is heartbreaking and, thought provoking, of one girl’s voice recovering from the hells of what it’s like to be trafficked. To realizing her own inner strengths, and to come to realization that she’s is unbreakable.

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5 perfect stars!

I finished What Unbreakable Looks Like half an hour ago and I'm still emotional. Going into it, I didn't expect it to hit me this hard. I've gone through a lot of trauma - including sexual assault - and this is one of the first book I've read involving these topics that feels "real".

It was an emotional roller coaster. Lex, the narrator, is a victim and a survivor of sex trafficking. When you think about sex trafficking you might picture girls being kidnapped in foreign countries and sold for sex, but her story takes place close to home. With more and more stories on the news about sex trafficking just in our back yard, the importance of this book grows. The harsh truth is that this is happening every day to people just like us. It's happening right here. It could be happening next door.

Kate McLaughlin approaches the topic without holding anything back and I have so much respect for her because of it. Lex is a lovable character that I could instantly relate to. She doesn't feel manufactured. When she's rescued from her pimp, she instantly begins a journey full of denial, anger, resentment, and regret, but also growth, acceptance, survival, and love. Thanks to her Aunt Krys and a few amazing friends she makes at her new school, Lex is eventually able to learn that she's worth more than a cheap orgasm. I wanted nothing more than to reach through the pages and give her a hug while simultaneously punishing everyone who ever hurt her.

My only gripe is the transition from the past to present. There was no indicator of a timeline change, so the random jumps were a little frustrating. That's really a simple editing fix, though!

***Thanks to NetGalley for providing me a complimentary copy of What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin in exchange for my honest review.***

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I’m literally so in love with this book. It’s coming out a timely time and it covers the reality of human trafficking, the power that social media and the internet has within that evil system, and how a survivor lives after. This is a must read for high school girls!

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Grab yourself a hot cocoa, recipe is in the book, and get settled. You are going to need a box of kleenex and a strong stomach to get through this detailed book on sex trafficking.
THIS IS A MUST READ BOOK FOR EVERYONE! Especially teenage girls, their parents, anyone who is around children should read this book...FULL STOP! READ THIS BOOK!
Alexa was groomed as a young adult to fall in "love" with an older man who needed a favor. This favor turned her into a drug addict and led to her being raped over and over again.
This book is so much more then just the sex trafficking and the addiction.
Its about struggle, self loathing, but most importantly REDEMPTION!
This is such a great book. It pulls you in and does NOT let go!

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This book was an emotional roller coaster that everyone will want to ride! Trigger warnings for rape and sexual assault though. I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you’ve been through that. Otherwise this book was absolutely amazing and I couldn’t put it down. The characters were developed really well and the plot was definitely intense. As soon as I finished this book I went ahead and preordered a copy!

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The book is expertly crafted, the characters are well described out and the demons that Lex faces are scary, as they should be and real. This should be required reading now that social media has made this situation more of a reality - it is well written so it does not sound like a lecture but it does ring true as a warning. Teenager's parents should read this as well and make sure that their kids feel safe. Modern age reminder of the famous book speak.

Buy this book.
Read this book.
Discuss this book.

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I received an advanced copy of this book through NetGalley and the publisher by invitation in exchange for an honest review. I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email on vacation inviting me to access the ARC. I had limited WiFi so I downloaded the book with little attention to the subject of the book. As there should be with this book, there are trigger warnings at the beginning of the book. Based on the subject of human trafficking, this warning doesn't give anything away. While it is a tough topic, it was, in my opinion, well worth the read and some may feel empowered at the end of the book. But if you are a survivor of sexual abuse or assault, you may want to consider the warning.

The Alexa we meet at the beginning of the book is very different than the one we find at the end. Her healing process was written very realistically. Her support system of her aunt and uncle, best friend Elsa and friend Zack were the very best you could imagine. Zack starts out as a tutor, then a friend, then perhaps the best book boyfriend I've seen in a while. Lex's bravery and courage after being trafficked for nearly a year is admirable. Her story is powerful and the writing was excellent. I highly recommend this book if you can get past some of the flashbacks of her time at the motel. And definitely have tissues and possibly pizza nearby.

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I knew this would be a heavy topic to read, but I felt that it had the potential to be an important read if done well.

This book was done incredibly well. While it addresses issues that can be triggering, such as substance use, sex trafficking, rape, parental neglect, violence, and self-harm, it wasn't gratuitous, and the author included a content warning at the beginning of the book.

What I most appreciated about the book was the way the author focused on Alexa's journey of healing and learning how to adjust to her new life. While I can't even imagine what this process must be like, it was handled sensitively and felt authentic, but it broke my heart for Alexa, other girls in the book, and the many people around the world for whom this is not fiction but a reality.

I don't usually cry while reading books, but this one got me - it's touching, heartbreaking, painful, and hopeful. If you can handle the material, I'd strongly suggest reading it. It's worth it.

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Poppy is her name given to her by her pimp. Her real name is Alexa and she was lured into sex trafficking by a friend of her mothers. When she is saved out of this life, her aunt, Krys, and uncle, Jamal, take her in.
Lex goes through many issues on her return to normal. She goes to a recovery center for girls like her. She has to catch up on the school she has missed before returning for her senior year. Her boyfriend, whom she has told about her past, corners her in the bathroom with four other guys. People find out about her past and ostracize her.
With her best friend and a male friend, she slowly recovers and takes back her life.
I was afraid to read this book at first. I knew it would be an emotional book that would take me on a roller coaster ride. Once I started it though, I couldn’t put it down. This book is gripping. It has its ups and downs but it is such a book of empowerment that I absolutely loved it. This is my favorite young adult book of the year.
Ms. McLaughlin weaves the story of Alexa being trafficked into the story of her recovery. Lex goes through many a battle but the book is so well written that you can’t help but feel. I felt compassion for her when I saw how her moms friend lured her into it. I felt sympathy when her boyfriend had his friends assault her in the bathroom. I felt relief when they sentenced her pimp. I felt so much through this entire book. You will finish this book but it will stay with you.

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What an intense book! This book was a look inside the world of sex trafficking. Scary, terrifying, and heart breaking.

Alexa was groomed at a young age by a friend of her mothers. She feel in love with an older man that had an ulterior motive. Soon she was trapped in the underground world of trafficking. When police finally rescue her, along with a few other girls, Alexa doesn’t know how to live outside the world of trafficking. She’s not sure if the real world is where she belongs anymore. With a supportive, loving aunt Alexa must try to learn to live like a normal teenager again. She’s not sure that she will be able to or even wants to.

This book was hard to put down. Be warned that there are graphics parts and it could be a trigger for some that have experienced trauma. It was such an eye opening experience for me.

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Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC of this hard-hitting and devastating novel! I haven't ever really researched much into sex trafficking; 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. I applaud Kate for what she has accomplished with this novel. She brings us a story that gives us an unapologetic look at the lives of these young adults that have been irrevocably changed, but she inserts 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 women are, and no matter what your circumstances, you deserve happiness.

Alexa, better known as Lex, was taken by a man she trusted and turned into Poppy; a girl who was forced to have sex with men along with several other 'flowers'. She watched girls come and go, made bonds with a few, and attempted to hold on to herself 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 until the police showed up one day. After being rescued, she finds out her estranged aunt is going to adopt her, and things start clicking into motion for her recovery. She watches her best friend from the hotel, Ivy, run straight back into the life, but she herself is stopped by the idea of a family. She endures rehab, making new friends, trusting the wrong boys, losing people she loves, getting talked about at school, and maybe even falling in love for the first time-- all while wondering how much of it she deserves, or even how much of it is real.

Lex is such a powerful character, because she has been through so much and yet is still able to see the good in people. The development that she has from page one to the end 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, and all the people she meets afterwards act as a wall around her, protecting her from set backs and hardships, and lets her figure out who she is in her own time, but loving her every step of the way. This novel is not only a call to open our eyes to the harsh existence of sex trafficking, but also to treat those you meet in life fairly, as you never know what scars lie just beneath the surface.

Knowing Lex's history, some would be inclined to make snap judgments about her. Those people would never know her love 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 a beacon of hope. Sometimes saving yourself will be the hardest thing you ever have to face. If 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 are not what this world will try to make you. It is cold and it is unforgiving, but you can find your people and yourself in spite of it. 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.

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What Unbreakable Looks Like is a powerful story about healing and self-discovery told from the perspective of Alexa, who was groomed, manipulated, and trafficked as a young teen. When she is rescued and taken in by her Aunt Krys, she struggles to reintegrate into society and live as a “normal” teenager. Her connections with her Aunt, Uncle, and new friends, Elsa and Zack, help her learn to trust again and to discover her self-worth. This story is incredibly raw and real. I felt every ounce of Alexa’s pain, confusion, anger, shock, and joy as she fought for control of her life and learned to find comfort in others. The author successfully covers incredibly difficult topics, including assault, harassment, and self-harm/suicide, in a sensitive and profound manner. Thank you for spreading awareness of these topics and helping create a world where survivors are met with compassion, love, and a sense of security.

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**WARNING: this book may trigger those who have been through a trauma.

Wow. That’s all I can say after finishing this book. I was completely engrossed in this book and had a difficult time putting it down. I was at the edge of my seat, not sure what would happen next. The author does an excellent job of showing that just because Poppy/Lex is out, that doesn’t mean life is great after. She still struggles. I love that she’s not perfect – in fact, she screws up left and right. I was particularly loving her relationship with her aunt. It filled my heart to see her gain friends, Elsa and Zach, and watch those characters develop as well. This book was HARD to read, from an emotional standpoint. I cried several times during this book. I will definitely seek out more from this author, and definitely recommend this!

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5 Stars

What an amazing book! It was a little uncomfortable to read sometimes but that is one of the reasons it is such a great book. It also made me want to cry sometimes. I loved everything about this book. The plot was great, the characters were great, and you get enough of a resolution without everything being wrapped up in a neat little bow.

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This book really blew me away. It brought out many emotions that I felt deeply in my soul. I cried more than I ever have while reading a book and it’s not a bad thing. This may be a hard read for some readers. Proceed with caution. We follow Alexa’s “Lex” on her recovery from sexual trauma. Her own healing process isn’t pretty and it isn’t meant to be. Lex struggles with her demons and the things that has happened to her. Through all of it, she finds her voice. She refuses to be a victim and her strength shines through. I applaud her! I was rooting for her the whole way.

The author did an amazing job on both the story and the characters. The story is emotional. One of the things I appreciated was how relatable it was. Some of the situations I have seen in real life. Like I mentioned earlier, I cried a lot. Most of the characters have a special place in my heart. I look forward to reading more from this author! Even though the subject isn’t a nice one, I highly enjoyed this book. I give this 5 stars.

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~ Impossible to put this book down. Realistic, heartbreaking, and heartwarming. Definitely a hard topic to read about BUT definitely necessary to have on the shelves. Reads as a realistic voice.

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Book: What Unbreakable Looks Like
Author: Kate McLaughlin
Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars

I would like to thank the publisher, Wednesday Books, for sending me an ARC.

I’ve actually had this title for awhile now. I’m glad I read it when I did. I’ve been in the mood for a hard hitting book and this one had it for me. The why it was written and the way the characters were presented just hit me in all of the right places. I love how the recovery period wasn’t shown as something quick and easy, but rather we got to see the hardships and difficult things that went along with it. What I’m getting out is I like how the road back to a so called normal life isn’t always easy and that the scars may never heal.

When most people think of human trafficking, they probably think of foreign countries. Kate doesn’t go there. She takes normal high school girl who finds herself in the life. We get to see how Alexa was pulled in. Not only that, but she could be the girl next door, she could be your best friend, you daughter. She’s the girl who everyone can relate to. This book will make people more aware of just how close to home this is and will maybe make them stop and think about these things before they judge. After all, you really don’t know what happened in someone’s life to make them get to this point.

This book also plays into the fact that it is so important to have a good support system. Kate talks about how Alexa was one of the only girls who didn’t go back. Alexa had some family who was willing to take her int and make her feel wanted. Those who went back, didn’t have this or believed that they had no other choice, but to return to the life. I think that if Alexa hadn’t had this support system, then she probably would have gone back.

We also get to see the ups and downs of trying to return to normal. Alexa goes through a lot of rough patches. We see bullying and her trying to move on. We get to see how she views herself and how this view of herself changes overtime. Like I said earlier, she is one of those characters that you can’t help but to fall in love with. You want her to be okay; you want her to get a second chance. You want her to find love and everything. However, the journey isn’t always easy. A lot of people will not go through what Alexa did, but everyone needs to heal at some point in their life. This book shows that it’s okay to take time to heal and to say that you’re not okay. There’s not a lot of books out there like this and I think that is why this book will be important.

I’m also going to put out there that this book does have some triggers. Just read the summary people before you pick this one up. I do not recommend this for more sensitive readers and younger readers. Kate does not sugarcoat anything.

I really enjoyed reading this one and I’m glad Wednesday Books recommended it to me. The release day is on June 23, 2020, so it is a bit away.

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This book had me captivated from the first page. At times heartbreaking, horrifying, uplifting, redeeming, and humorous, this book is not for the faint-hearted! The main character is a 17 year old girl who has been the victim of sex-trafficking, made worse by the fact that her mom's boyfriend is involved and mom is too strung out to care. While the effects of addiction are mostly glossed over, the horrors of sex trafficking are not.

I have no personal experience with trafficking from which to draw, but the book felt so real to me. The main character, Alexa, struggles with paranoia, depression, anxiety, worthlessness, and more. The book focuses more on her recovery experiences, but it does touch on some of the statistics worldwide. There are a few peripheral characters (other girls who also "belonged" to the her pimp) whose fates we get to see as well.

Although I found the wrap up just a little too tidy, I'm still giving the book 5 stars because I could not put it down.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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This book still haunts me and I finished reading it a month ago! McLaughlin paints an all too accurate and believable vision of what sex trafficking looks like in our own backyards. The characters are so well developed--I feel like Lex is an actual person that I could meet. I could not put this book down. a must read for anyone who thinks sex trafficking can't happen in their town.

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