Author: Abby Sher
Publication Info: Published June 2, 2014 by Barron’s Educational Series
Review Copy Acquired From: www.netgalley.com
Brief Summary: Breaking Free is a young adult nonfiction book about modern day sexual slavery and trafficking. The book tells the horrible tales of three women who escaped slavery but are now doing inspiring work to help other victims.
The first woman, Cambodian Somaly Mam, was sold into sexual slavery as a child, but went on to start an organization that helps women who are trying to build lives after leaving the sex trade.
Minh Dang had a very different experience: she was raised in San Jose, CA, and was an overachieving student who was secretly being sexually abused by her father and then forced into prostitution by her parents. Every night, they would drive her to the Bay Area, where she would be sold in the back room of a café, and then pick her up in the morning for school. She still managed to attend Berkeley, eventually severing ties with her parents, getting a master’s degree, and becoming executive director of an anti-trafficking organization.
Maria Suarez was fifteen when she was visiting America for an extended period and went on an interview to be a maid. She was then held captive as a sex-slave for six years, and when she was finally freed because of the murder of her captor, she was wrongfully accused of this murder and imprisoned. Twenty years later, she was released, but was promptly sent to US Immigration and Naturalization Services detention center for being an illegal immigrant. A year later, after many people fought on her behalf, she was released into the United States, and now is a counselor for abused women.
The book also includes facts about sexual trafficking, resources to help victims, and a bibliography.
The book itself is best when detailing the stories of the women, although it at times feels simplistic and seems to gloss over some of the harsh details. While play-by-plays of abuse are not necessary, it would have been nice to feel real emotional connection with these women, especially as they managed to actually break free from their situations. Very important events – that took years to transpire – are described in only a few sentences. However, the stories are inspirational and educational, exposing the fact that sexual slavery can occur in many different ways. The book also fails to explain some of its assertions, such as the fact that the “Minnesota pipeline” is so named because it is a place where young girls are easily trafficked. Why on earth is this the case? What are the cultural situations that lead to this, as opposed to other states in the United States? In addition, in a section about the ways we can help victims, the author talks about paying attention to the women we know to make sure they are not being abused, and the suggestion that a sign of abused in a woman is if “she’s really into showing off her body in a way that scares you” will probably not be a welcome one. Most women in free societies – especially in the United States – are very against having their clothing policed, and there must be better ways to try to sense if someone is a victim of abuse, or this statement needs to be extensively clarified and backed up by evidence. All of these flaws aside, the book is a quick, engaging read, and perhaps a good starting point for an important and scary topic. That there is currently a scandal regarding one of the women in the book does not make it any less valuable to learn about sexual trafficking and slavery; it only means more sources must be explored to try to get accurate information.
About the Author: Bio in bullet points from www.abbysher.com: “* wrote and performed for The Second City and ImprovOlympic
* did a bunch of movies and shows…HBO’s Sketchpad and Ron Lazzeretti’s Something Better Somewhere Else
* wrote and performed for NPR
* young adult novel (2007), Kissing Snowflakes
* essays for Modern Love: Tales of Love and Obsession, Behind the Bedroom Door, The Good Mother Myth, The New York Times, The L.A. Times, Self, Jane, Elle, Elle UK, GOODis, Marie Claire, HeeB, and Redbook
* my memoir, Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn’t Stop Praying was published by Scribner in October, 2009. It got a nod from Oprah and won ELLE Readers’ Prize, Chicago Tribune’s Best of 2009, and Moment Magazine’s Emerging Writers Award”