Honesty and strong convictions characterize Hall’s storytelling in this disquieting memoir. Raised in the slums near Alexandria, Egypt, she doesn’t attend school, staying home to care for the household, especially four younger siblings. When an older sister steals from an employer, Shyima is sold to him to maintain the family honor. She is eight years old. For nearly five years, first in Egypt and then in California, Shyima labors from dawn until midnight to serve the needs of an extended Egyptian family. America marks a dramatic worsening of her plight: there the 10-year-old is the family’s only maid. However, America also offers freedom after someone calls the authorities about a shabby, undersize child who never goes to school. It’s a long road to something resembling “normal” in a new culture, language, and reality. Shyima is realistic about her challenges but optimistic, too. Her story holds attention without being too graphic—indeed, for some readers, there may be too little visceral communication of the horror of Shyima’s situation. Nevertheless, she commands unfailing interest, sympathy, and respect. Ages 14–up. Agent: Sharlene Martin, Martin Literary Management. (Jan.)
Most valuable are the tips she gives for people to understand how to detect when someone is possibly being enslaved and how to interact with someone who has been rescued, making this an important intervention into a growing problem.
"Hall has given a face to many. This is an excellent book for both individual reading and classroom use." Booklist
Shyima Hall recounts her experiences as a child in Egypt put into forced servitude for a wealthy Egyptian family. Her parents gave her to the family to work off a debt her poverty-stricken family could not pay. When the family Shyima serves encounters legal troubles, they move to California, taking the girl with them using falsified papers. Eventually rescued after several years of servitude, the aftermath of dealing with such grinding poverty, physical and verbal abuse and neglect, and demanding work significantly impacted the life of the author. Much of the book explores her life post-slavery; including, her relationship with her birth family, her encounters with the foster care system, and her attempts to heal and build a life of her own. While the memoir is not eloquent in its writing style, the story is powerful, heartbreaking, and ultimately a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Her living conditions, forced labor, and the abuse she endured are matter-of-factly recounted. Shyima has worked hard to overcome the damage of the experience, managing to embrace life and build a family after gaining her freedom. In addition to the hardships she endured as a child slave, even when she is "free" there is no easy path and Shyima must work to overcome obstacles while seeking healing and happiness. Hidden Girl puts a face on, and gives a voice to, modern-day slavery, not only in far-away places but in the United States in a way that is accessible and personal. Reviewer: Erin Wyatt
Gr 7–10—Shyima Hall was eight years old when her parents sold her into slavery. Before this, she was living with them and her 10 siblings in poverty in a small town near Alexandria, Egypt. She worked tirelessly for her captors, receiving no medical care or schooling and developed a general mistrust of people. When her owners moved to the U.S., Shyima was illegally transported to California, where her bondage continued. She was forced to live in a garage and not allowed to have outside contacts. This memoir follows her experiences from her early childhood and captivity to her life after she was rescued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Teens will be interested in learning how Shyima adjusted to foster care and adoption, school, dating, working, and being a regular young adult. The book ends on an uplifting note as Shyima becomes a mother and continues working toward her goal of becoming a police officer or working for the ICE in order to save others forced into bondage. The specific details of her eye-opening account provide an excellent introduction to the terrible plight of thousands of slaves who are brought into the U.S. each year. For teachers who want to develop text-sets about child slavery and labor, combine this book with Susan Kuklin's Iqbal Masih and the Crusaders Against Child Labor (Holt, 1998); David L. Parker, Leeanne Engfer, and Robert Conrow's Stolen Dreams (Carolrhoda, 1997); and Russell Freedman's Kids at Work (Clarion, 1994).—Myra Zarnowski, City University of New York
This memoir of modern domestic slavery ends with hope and determination, as young author Hall (born Shyima El-Sayed Hassan) is "one of the fortunate 2 percent" to be freed from servitude. Shyima's childhood in Egypt ends when her parents are blackmailed into turning over their 8-year-old daughter to a wealthy couple. Every day, Shyima cleans the five-story house and the 17-car garage, "standing on a stool doing the dishes" because she's too tiny to reach the sink. When she's 10, Shyima's captors move to California, illegally trafficking her into the U.S. After two more years of hard labor and increasing ill health, a worried neighbor calls the police, and Shyima's journey into freedom begins. A chain of Muslim and Christian foster parents (some protective, others exploitative) leads her to become an anti-slavery activist. Unsurprisingly, Hall's representations of Arab and Muslim men are filtered through her appalling experiences. Though she acknowledges misogyny "is not what the Muslim faith is about," readers should expect to find depictions that hew closely to negative stereotypes. Those readers prepared to brave a dense, adult tome could move from Hall's memoir to John Bowe's Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy (2007) for a deeper look. The proximity to pain makes for a choppy narrative but also vitally draws attention to a global crisis. (Nonfiction. 13-16)