Thursday, January 28, 2016

‘Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-Day Child Slave’ (Book Review)

I remember reading about Shyima Hall in the news: a girl kept as a family slave, literally right under everyone’s nose. It’s one thing to hear about such things happening. It’s quite another to have it so close to home. (She was in Irvine in Orange County. I was living in Tustin, an adjacent city, during the time.) Some years later, when I heard about her memoir, Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-Day Child Slave (Simon & Schuster, 2014), I was eager to have a chance to read her side of the story.

The book begins with Shyima’s younger years in Egypt, her family plagued with financial difficulties. While the author doesn’t excuse her parents handing her over to work for another family, the book does show the reader why they probably felt they had no other choice. Kept as a slave, eight-year-old Shyima tolerated substandard living arrangements, received no education, and had no time for herself. It was work day and night. She kept track of time passed by the birthdays of her owners’ children.

When her owners decided to move to the United States, they went to a lot of trouble to make sure Shyima joined them. Shyima’s life of slavery continued over here, until someone dropped an anonymous tip about the suspicious girl to the police. Now free, Shyima’s struggles didn’t end. She faced court trials, foster family drama, and the struggle of trying to find her place in a very different culture. But in the end, you can see that she’s happy and optimistic about life and eager to educate the American public about the modern-day slave trafficking problem.

Hidden Girl is a great book, taking its reader through a whole range of emotions. Cowriter Lisa Wysocky did an excellent job keeping a very foreign and little girlish voice to the narrative. And it was encouraging for me to learn that the Orangewood Children’s Home (with which my old church had been involved) played a positive role in helping her. The book is good evidence that – even though there’s a lot of social and economic issues abroad – there are real problems here at home that need our attention too.