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Summary: "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
Clean sheets. That’s what I’m dreaming about when some-
thing wakes me up. I groan, swearing. Sleep is the only time I
have to myself—the only time I’m free from the motel and the
other girls in it. The sound grows louder, people coming up
the stairs outside the room.
I force my eyes open. It’s still dark, but there’s always a sliver
of light that comes through the window—neon blue from the
vacancy sign, and yellow floodlights. Shadows pass,
strobing the light. It’s too late for business. If Mitch let us go to
bed, it has to be not much before dawn. We’re his nighttime
I took some pills earlier, after the last john left, so maybe I’m
imagining things. Mitch came by and gave us all a little “treat.” I’d
been greedy. I’m always greedy when it comes to my
medicine, and Mitch spoils me. I’m his favorite—he told me.
There are six of us on the second floor of the motel. The
manager gave Mitch a deal on the rooms for a cut of his
take—and a piece of each of us. I wonder if that’s what this is, the
slimy piece of shit coming to get a little somethin’ somethin’
There’s a crash, followed by a scream. I sit up, head
swimming. Fear takes hold, sobering me. I crawl out of bed,
stagger to the other one. Ivy is out cold. I shake her
shoulder—it’s bony. Too bony. “Wake up. Ivy, wake the fuck
up.” How can she sleep with all the screaming?
“Poppy?” She clutches at my hand. “What’s going on? “I
don’t know, but you need to get up and put some clothes
on.” She’s naked. I’m in a tank top and my under- wear. I
stumble to the dresser we share and pull out a pair of jeans
that should have been washed days ago. I tug them on,
fastening them low on my hips. I grab a sweater and shove my
feet into a pair of sneakers. Behind me, I hear Ivy getting out
of bed, the sheets rasping against each
More screams. I run—lurch—to the door and try to open
it, but the manager locks us in after the johns leave. Most of us
have nowhere to go even if we were straight enough to run,
but every once in a while a girl tries to take off. They never get
far before they turn around and come back on their own.
Mitch has that effect on us.
“What is it?” Ivy asks as she stumbles into a pair of jeans.
Her voice is slurred, her eyelids barely open.
“I think it’s the cops,” I say. Either that, or it’s a rival of
Mitch’s. I don’t want to think about what’s going to happen to
us if that’s the case.
The door to our room flies open. I jump backward, put- ting
myself between whoever it is and Ivy. The cops. We stand
there watching them like cornered dogs, beaten and meek.
We know the drill. Don’t say nothin’.
“Are you girls okay?” a woman cop asks. She’s tall with long,
curly hair and dark skin. Beyoncé wishes she were this
“We ain’t done nothing wrong,” I tell her. “You can’t
She gives me a funny look. “Honey, we’re not here to
arrest you. We’re here to get you out of here.”
“Yeah? Where you gonna take us?”
“The hospital, then home, if we can.” I
snort. Home. Yeah right.
She holds out her hand. “Come on. You can’t stay here.” Ivy
clings to me as we inch toward the door. As soon as I cross
the threshold, I start to run. Ivy’s feet tangle with mine and
we go down, hitting the cement walkway
Ivy grunts. There’s blood on her lips. A male cop hauls her
up, carries her away.
“Hey!” I cry.
“Da fuck?” someone yells. I smile at the sound of Dai- sy’s
voice. She’s gonna fuck somebody up. “Get off the floor,
you stupid bitch.”
I push up onto my hands. The female cop takes my arm and
pulls me up.
“Ow!” My left ankle doesn’t want me to stand on it. “Lean
on me,” the cop says, putting her arm around me.
Her hand is on my ribs. I wait for it to creep higher, but it
My foot really hurts. I should have grabbed my pills.
What am I going to do when these wear off?
“What’s your name?” the woman asks as we begin
walking. She’s taking a lot of my weight, but she doesn’t seem
bothered by it.
She smiles a little. “Your real name, sweetie. So we can let
your parents know you’re okay.”
I’m not sure my mother would even care. “Alexa,” I tell her.
“Alexa Marie.” It doesn’t feel like mine anymore—it belongs
to someone else.
“You’re safe now, Alexa. You’re going to be okay.”
I laugh. Who does she think she’s talking to? She don’t know
shit. “Bitch,” I say. “We ain’t never going to be okay. Never.”
They say I’m safe. I don’t feel safe. My skin itches and
twitches like bugs are crawling underneath it. I’ve left fin-
gernail scratches on my arms from trying to get to them— long,
raw furrows in my skin that felt so good at the time, but burn
I’m in the hospital. Why doesn’t Mitch rescue me? Why
doesn’t he come take me home? He’s a bad guy, they tell me.
I know, but he’s my bad guy. He’s all I got.
“How long have I been here?” I ask the nurse, but she
doesn’t seem to hear me, because she doesn’t answer. It has to
have been a while. I don’t feel right. I need my medicine. My
clothes are gone. I’m wearing a thin cotton gown that smells
weird. I’ve been photographed, poked, and prodded. They
swabbed my mouth and got me into stir- rups so they could
swab down there too. They said they were going to check me
for STIs, and would I consent to a pregnancy test? Sure. If I am
pregnant, I want it out of me.
So many tests. So many questions.
“You okay, baby?” the nurse asks.
I want to ask her if I fucking look okay. “No,” I say in- stead,
Her lips form a thin line and she nods, like she under-
stands. “I’ll see what we can do to take the edge off.” She
leaves the room, but she’s back in a few minutes. She gives
me a cup of water and a little paper cup with pills in it. I don’t
even ask what they are, I just flush them down my throat and
start counting the seconds.
“Give me your arm, honey,” she commands. She has a
tube of lotion that she rubs into the scratches and dry
patches. It feels good, takes away the sting and itch.
“You’re pale as milk,” she comments. “Skin that delicate
needs to be protected.”
I don’t know what to say, so I stay quiet.
“I’ll be back later to put some more on, okay?”
She smiles at me, and tears burn in my eyes. I blink— hard.
No one is going to see me weak.
I’m watching cartoons on TV a little while later when
another woman comes in. This one’s wearing pants and a
blouse and carrying a bag big enough to hold a small child.
She has curly blond hair and blue eyes.
“Hello, Alexa,” she says. “My name is Jill. I’m with DCF.
Do you know what that is?”
“Yeah,” I reply. They came by to talk to Mom once when I
went to school wearing the same clothes three days in a row
and didn’t have lunch.
“Good. I work specifically with cases involving human
trafficking. Are you aware of what that is?”
Does she think I’m a fucking idiot? Brain damaged,
maybe? “It’s when you’re forced into being a ho.”
She inclines her head. “That’s part of it. I’m here
because you’ve been identified as a victim of human
I stare at her. She doesn’t seem bothered by my silence.
She walks over and sits in the chair by my bed. I push
myself farther up on the pillows.
“Would you be okay if we talk about what happened to
you?” she asks me.
“Ain’t nothin’ happened to me,” I respond.
“Mitch Anderson didn’t force you to have sex with strangers
“I didn’t charge anyone money.”
“No. Mitch did that, didn’t he?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Mitch is my
“That’s what the other girls from the motel called him as
well. You don’t mind sharing your boyfriend with them?” I’m
silent. I want to tell her I’m his favorite, but I’ve already said
too much. I forgot how much trouble Mitch could be in for having sex with young girls.
“Your mother’s boyfriend, Frank, is a friend of Mitch’s, isn’t
“I don’t want to talk about him.” What I want is my pills.
I don’t like the things I’m starting to feel. To think.
Jill gives me a sympathetic look. “Alexa—”
“Poppy,” I correct her. “My name is Poppy.”
“Do you really want to be called that?” she asks me.
Yes, but I give her the answer she wants to hear. “No.” I’ll tell
her whatever she wants if it makes her go the fuck away. I have
to get out of here, but how far will I get in a hos- pital gown with
my bare ass sticking out? I want to scream, but when I tried
last night, nothing came out. Jill’s still
watching me. I want to punch her in the face.
“I want to see Ivy,” I say.
Jill nods. “I’ll see if we can make that happen.”
“You don’t have to see shit. She right down the damn hall.”
To prove it, I yell her name at the top of my lungs. “Ivy! Ivy!”
“Poppy!” comes the answering shout. “Pop-py!” I
grin, so fucking happy to hear her voice.
There’s a knock on the open door. I turn my head and see
the woman cop who found me at the motel.
“Detective Willis,” Jill says, giving her a look I recognize from
adults I’ve known my whole life. It brands me as “dif- ficult,” an
The cop smiles at me. A small real one that tells me she’s
known too many girls like me.
She ain’t known anyone like me.
“Can I come in?” she asks.
Like I can stop her. I nod. I can’t help but stare at her. She’s
probably one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. And
she’s got this attitude—like she knows how to kill somebody
with only two fingers, y’know? She’s strong.
I hate her for it.
She stands beside my bed, watching me like she thinks I
might bite—and she’s prepared to take the risk. “How are you
feeling?” she asks.
“Like a junkie,” I rasp. I hold up my hand; it trembles.
Detective Willis looks sympathetic, but I wonder if she’s
ever felt like this before. “We’re going to get you into a re- hab
program for girls who have been trafficked.”
I startle. “I’m not going home?” I don’t care if I see my
mother, or Frank, but Mitch won’t know where to find me if I
don’t go home.
She looks at Jill, who shakes her head.
“What the fuck are y’all not tellin’ me?” I demand. “I’m right
Jill sighs. “Alexa, your mother has given up her parental
rights. You can’t go home.”
I look from her to Detective Willis. “She doesn’t want me?”
The cop tries to take my hand. I pull it away. “She knows home
is not a good environment for you.”
“Bullshit,” I say. “She just doesn’t want her fucked-up kid
I am not going to cry.
“So, I’m going to be sent to prison, then, huh?” I ask. I won’t
be eighteen for almost a year. That makes me a ward of the
state. “Where all unwanted kids go?”
“No,” Jill says. “We found someone who very much
wants to take you.”
“Who?” I demand.
“Your aunt Krys,” she replies.
I remember Krys—vaguely. We used to spend a lot of
time with her when my grandmother was alive, back when I
was little and Mom’s drinking wasn’t so bad. I liked her.
“She’d like to visit with you, and if you want, you could
maybe live with her and her husband in Middletown when
you get out of the program.”
“What does she want in return?” I ask. “She get paid to take
Detective Willis doesn’t look surprised at the question.
“She doesn’t want anything.”
“She told me your mother wouldn’t let her see you when they
broke ties. She says she’s missed you.”
My throat is tight. I swallow hard. I’m not the kid Krys
knew. I’m not a kid at all. “She’s not going to want me when she
sees what a mess I am.”
“Maybe you should let me decide that,” comes a voice from
the door. My head whips around so fast, it hurts.
Standing just inside the room is a woman who looks like a
younger, sober version of my mother. Softer. She’s tall and
slim with bright red hair and blue eyes. She’s wearing a long
sweater over leggings with tall boots. She looks like she
stepped out of a catalog.
“Aunt Krys?” My voice sounds thin, stupid.
She’s pale, her mouth tight and eyes watery as she nods.
I burst into tears.
Something pokes me in the face. I groan and push at it,
grabbing a skinny finger. My eyes open, blinking against
the corridor light shining into my otherwise darkened room.
A familiar face looms over mine.
“What time is it?” I ask.
“Time for you to get a Altoid or somethin’,” Ivy replies. “Girl,
whadafuck died in your mouth?”
I laugh. “You don’t like my breath, get your face out of it,” I
tell her. “What are you doing up? It’s late.”
“Somethin’s goin’ on. The nurses ain’t watching the
station. Let’s go.”
Suddenly, I’m wide awake, throwing back the covers.
They took my IV out earlier, so I’m not connected to any- thing
anymore. I’m not 100 percent, but I’m better than I was, and I’m
ready to get the fuck out of this place.
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.
Again, if you're interested in preordering the book, here's an easy link to the publisher's website with all the information.
Again, if you're interested in preordering the book, here's an easy link to the publisher's website with all the information.