Title: Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-Day Child Slave
Author: Shyima Hall
Genre: YA Non-fiction
Source: Publisher (ARC)
An inspiring and compelling memoir from a young woman who lost her childhood to slavery—and built a new life grounded in determination and justice.
Shyima Hall was born in Egypt on September 29, 1989, the seventh child of desperately poor parents. When she was eight, her parents sold her into slavery. Shyima then moved two hours away to Egypt’s capitol city of Cairo to live with a wealthy family and serve them eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. When she was ten, her captors moved to Orange County, California, and smuggled Shyima with them. Two years later, an anonymous call from a neighbor brought about the end of Shyima’s servitude—but her journey to true freedom was far from over.
A volunteer at her local police department since she was a teenager, Shyima is passionate about helping to rescue others who are in bondage. Now a US citizen, she regularly speaks out about human trafficking and intends to one day become an immigration officer. In Hidden Girl, Shyima candidly reveals how she overcame her harrowing circumstances and brings vital awareness to a timely and relevant topic.
Big thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for sending me an ARC of this book for review!
As morbid as it sounds, I really love to read nonfiction accounts of people who have escaped some sort of bad situation. One of my favourite books like this is Escape by Carolyn Jessop, a book I devoured and loved which has led me to seek out other books of people either trapped in their religion or trapped by their culture.
In Hidden Girl, Shyima is trapped — moved outside of her family, outside of her home, off of her continent, to become a slave for a family as a debt to her parents. The idea is utterly frightening (even more so when you think of how this still happens) and what originally led me to want to read this story.
While I do love these kinds of stories, I feel like this one fell short of my expectations. When reading the title of the book, I’m led to believe that the story is about Shyima’s account of child slavery — which it is, but only for the first third, maybe less, of the book. The rest is about her struggle to find a foster family and ultimately become a U.S. citizen. The slavery part of the book is very short.
Perhaps it was the reviews that led me astray (and don’t I always say that I shouldn’t read reviews before reading a book?). People had said that it was the best nonfiction book they had read, and it could be for the age range. This book is geared towards audiences of 14 or up and it’s written as such. I might be used to books geared towards adults, but I felt like the writing was a little too simple — and sometimes a little too redundant and lacking emotion.
This isn’t to say that the story isn’t inspiring and moving — really, the things that Shyima goes through are terrible and a real eye-opener and her recovery is definitely inspiring. There’s a certain flow that’s lacking, almost a lack of emotion, which probably explains why I wasn’t as interested as I should have been. Some of the events are detailed as just events, like a recollection or list of people and things, rather than a story. I think I would’ve preferred the account to be more story-like.
However, the book does raise awareness of slavery and gives plenty of clues how to spot someone who might be in Shyima’s previous situation. For being a YA book, it makes sense to share something like this as some young adults might not be aware that slavery is something that could be going on around them. It’s a shorter read, quick to get through, and definitely one I would recommend for the intended audience. If you’re an adult, you might want to check out some other titles, unless you’re looking for a quick read.