Review: What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin

Title: What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


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.


What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin is a poignant young adult novel of healing.

Groomed by Mitch, a friend of her alcoholic mother, Alexa “Lex” Grace becomes a victim of trafficking. With her name changed to Poppy, she endures horrific abuse made bearable by the drugs supplied by Mitch. Knowing all too well how difficult it is to adjust to their new circumstances, she takes newcomer Jaime (who is renamed Ivy) under her wing. When the police raid the motel where they live and work from, Poppy and Ivy are taken to the hospital where preparations begin for the next phase of their lives. Unfortunately, Ivy returns to Mitch while Poppy eventually goes to live with her Aunt Krys and her husband Jamal Morgan.

Reclaiming her legal name, Lex begins her arduous journey of recovery at a nearby rehabilitation home.  She is not addicted to drugs but she craves the numbness she experiences while under their influence.  Her coping mechanism is indifference as Lex compartmentalizes her experiences. After her time at the home comes to an abrupt end, she moves in Chrys and Jamal where she struggles with trust issues and extremely low self-worth. Lex is often detached with a fatalistic attitude about what she perceives is a precarious new life.

Lex finds a small circle of support with new friends, Elsa and Zack.  Her recovery from what happened to her is slow as she catches up on school work and prepares for her senior year of high school. A fateful decision that exposes her past unexpectedly becomes a turning point in her healing process.  Despite a few missteps and poor choices, Lex finally begins to reflect on her time with Mitch.  With the help of her aunt, Jamal, Elsa and Zack, Lex is truly on the path to recovery.

What Unbreakable Looks Like is a heartrending young adult novel with a complex storyline.  Lex is a multi-faceted teenager with an authentic voice and realistic reactions to what she has endured. The secondary characters are diverse and well-developed. The subject matter is difficult to read but Kate McLaughlin deftly handles these issues with sensitivity. I highly recommend this thought-provoking and surprisingly uplifting novel to older teen and adult readers.

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