Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd
Book review by Kylla Leeburg, TAT Deputy Director
I’ll be honest, I have struggled for a couple of weeks with writer’s block in regards to this book review of Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd. How do I do it justice? How do I convey the power, the emotional transparency, the interwoven analysis, the brutality of these girls’ lives and the unwavering hope in a future without exploitation in a way that really inspires you to buy and, more importantly, read this book? I read a lot of anti-trafficking books. I have watched dozens of anti-trafficking documentaries and films. I follow survivors, dozens of anti-trafficking groups, and I have not openly wept over things in a long time…not because I lack sensitivity or compassion, but because when you are entrenched in the anti-trafficking movement day in and day out, you tend to develop a bit of a shell so that you can function. You can’t get knocked down and be out of commission because too many people are trapped and need your help. So, when I began reading Girls Like Us, I thought my shell would hold…but there were certain passages that brought the reality of not just what the girls go through, but truly who they are straight to my heart. It broke down my defenses and I could see them, and I could hear them, and my heart broke for them.
“They’re world-weary, traumatized pseudo-adults who sometimes let their guard slip and allow the twelve or thirteen-year-old to come out. And the dissonance between their childishness and their forced maturity in the streets breaks my heart. It reminds me of the girls whose stories are not about ghosts and zombies, but about tricks and pimps and rapes and jail. This dissonance is there at the excited reunions at GEMS, where the girls remember each other from the track, the psych hospital, the detention center, the group home. It’s there when nineteen-and-twenty-year-olds act like thirteen-year-olds because they never got a chance to. Or when I hear that Monica wanted to go to Build-A Bear for her eighteenth birthday; see Taisha sucking her thumb at twenty; Joielle playing Dress Up Barbie on the computer; Bianca wanting to go get her pink, fuzzy book bag from a john’s house; Evie requesting Hannah Montana school supplies as she attends trade school at nineteen after eight years in the life; Danielle and her Sponge Bob; Sequoia in a pediatric ward with cartoon curtains.” Pg. 246
I couldn’t put this book down once I started it. It moved me to my core. It added fuel to my fire to fight for a world where our daughters, our fellow citizens, our precious children and adults don’t have to spend weeks in the hospital recovering from vicious beatings and rapes by buyers…a world where they are reminded that they are worth so much, that who they are is not what has been done to them. That they are beautiful and valuable. A world where exploiters’ lies would be immediately recognized as such, where viable options and hope and kindness are the norm…and this book will inspire you to see these girls for who they truly are…girls like us who just haven’t been given the same opportunities or support; girls like us who have dreams and talents and goals…girls like us who deserve better.
Rachel gives you statistics. She shares her story. She talks in-depth about her work at GEMS and providing a safe place for these girls to breathe and share and dream. She provides thoughtful analysis and poignant stories. She talks about failures and triumphs. It is an educational book, but it is so much more. Girls Like Us is infused with such depth of feeling, the ugly beauty that is human frailty and an authenticity that is so layered, that I can’t recommend this book enough.
I have been a part of the anti-trafficking movement for seven years. I have been a justice-seeker in different mediums since my adolescence. This book renewed me on a personal level and as an advocate. It inspired me. It deepened my understanding and it strengthened my commitment. If you are new to the anti-trafficking movement, have been in it awhile, are a survivor, a lay person, or anyone interested in our youth, do yourselves a favor and get this book. Read it, let it sink in, and share their stories with others. Together we can create a better world for them, a world we would want to live in, a safe place. In the end, they are girls like us, and they deserve better.