Blog tour: What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin
Hello, and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like.
First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Meghan from Wednesday Books for reaching out and inviting me to take part in this blog tour. Although this is a hard read which contains some difficult content it educated me on a topic I didn’t know much about, and I feel as though I learnt a lot during the course of this story.
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.
‘You can sell a pill once. You can sell a girl many times before she’s all used up.’
What Unbreakable Looks Like starts with a bang. We meet Poppy at the motel where she is being kept and sold by Mitch, the man who made her think he loved her and showered her with gifts so she felt as though she was in his debt. When the police raid the motel and find the girls they are taken to the hospital, where Poppy is reunited with her aunt Krys.
Krys and her husband Jamal are hoping to take Poppy home with them, so that she can beginning living her life as Lex once more. But the journey will not be an easy one, and Lex will need to want to stay clean and truly believe that she deserves better than the life Mitch dragged her into.
“This is how you survive. You sit the fuck down and give them the respect they deserve, and you make a promise to yourself that they didn’t die for nothing. You get mad, and you keep going. That’s how girls like us get even, how we say fuck you to the people who did this to us. We live.”
Kate McLaughlin does a wonderful job of exploring all of the different treatment options available to someone who has been in a situation like Lex. Not only is she taken to a rehab facility, where she undergoes group therapy and one-on-one appointments with a psychiatrist, but Lex also takes medication to help with her anxiety. I’m always a huge fan of books which don’t attempt to prescribe a one-size-fits-all treatment: mental health issues often need a combination of different treatments, especially for someone who has been through something as awful as Lex.
At the treatment centre we are introduced to a range of different characters, and one of the only reasons that I didn’t give this book five stars was because I really wanted some of these characters to be fleshed out a little more. Because Kate McLaughlin focuses so intensely on Lex’s recovery and she moves on from the rehabilitation centre quite quickly it felt like some of the side characters that we were introduced to were unnecessary, but there are a lot of people introduced very quickly and it’s hard to keep track of them all.
However, we also get introduced to a few of the other girls who lived and worked in the motel with Lex while she was still Poppy, and I thought those girls – Daisy and Ivy in particular – were extremely well fleshed out. The different ways that they react to being in such a heinous situation are very realistic and believable: it’s likely that some of the girls would rebel against Mitch more than others, and the dynamics between the girls are authentic. The flashbacks to the motel are quite sparse, but they’re very emotional – it’s impossible not to feel like weeping whenever you see Lex go through another ordeal at the hands of one of Mitch’s ‘customers’.
The sexual assault referenced in the blurb doesn’t happen until almost halfway through the novel, so I did have a constant sick feeling of dread churning in the bottom of my stomach knowing that Lex’s fresh start wasn’t going to be as happy as she had hoped. Her reaction to the assault was devastating, but the fact that she had friends and family around her to teach her that it was not okay that she had been put through that gave the story a feeling of optimism and hope. There are good people out there, it’s just sometimes hard to remember that – especially when you’ve been shown the bad side of people over and over again.
A big focus of the novel is on Lex developing a romantic relationship and learning to love on her own terms. Although I thought aspects of this were rushed, the overall handling of the matter is done very well.
There’s also a focus on justice, and the way that victims of sexual assault often worry about coming forward for fear of victim blaming. I have seen this tackled in a few YA novels in the past but don’t think any have managed to do it quite as well: Kate McLaughlin balances a mixture of supportive and outraged reactions, which is very true to life.
It sounds wrong to say that I thoroughly enjoyed What Unbreakable Looks Like, because it’s hard to enjoy a book focusing on a subject such as this, but I thought it was written well, had great character development and a very satisfying conclusion.
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.
You can find Kate on Twitter.
Thanks again to Wednesday Books for having me on this blog tour, and thank you for checking out my stop.
Have a wonderful day!