- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Don’t let the BFYR (Books for Young Readers) label on “Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-Day Child Slave (Simon & Schuster BFYR, 240 pages, $17.99, also available in an eBook) deter you from reading this memoir by Shyima Hall, with Lisa Wysocky: It’s suitable for people of all ages and will enlighten every reader about a problem that flies under the radar in the mainstream media.
Shyima Hall was born in Egypt in 1989, the seventh child of desperately poor parents in Alexandria, Egypt. When she was eight, her parents sold her into slavery, even though slavery is technically illegal in Egypt. Shyima then moved two hours away to Egypt’s capital city of Cairo to live with a wealthy family and serve them eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. Shyima writes that she was sold because her older sister Zahra had apparently stolen from the family and the “honor” code of Islam required that another child be substituted for the alleged thief.
When Shyima 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.
The neighbor who thought something was suspicious in the gated community noticed a young girl hanging up clothing to dry on a makeshift clothes line — something people in upscale Irvine don’t do, especially at night. Shiyima was not allowed to use the washing machine of the couple she refers to as “The Mom” and “The Dad”. She was confined to a space in the garage and washed her clothing in a bucket of water.
“Hidden Girl” goes into considerable detail about Shyima’s stay in a group home and later in foster homes, more than a few of them not much better than her captives. She’s finally adopted by a couple and it turns out that this couple is as dysfunctional as some of the foster parents, with the wife being the major source of grievances. The authors are frank in their writing of all this dysfunction, something that should attract the 12-years-old and up target audience. Adults often misjudge the wisdom of teens and even pre-teens.
Shyima was so impressed by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official named Mark Abend who was involved in her rescue that she decided that she wanted to become an ICE agent herself and rescue the thousands of child slaves believed to be in the U.S. Abend, Shyima writes, was always there for her. He set such a good example that Shyima became a volunteer at the local police department — and became a U.S. citizen. She also became a mother, after learning the day before her citizenship test that she was pregnant Shyima and her boyfriend Daniel are raising their daughter Athena — and Shyima still wants to become a police officer or ICE agent.
She writes that “More than seventeen thousand new slaves are brought into the United States every year. And more are being rescued than ever before. That’s why it’s so important to know that a rescued slave could show up in your school, workplace or neighborhood. That person is going to need a lot of love, care, and patience.”
“Hidden Girl” is a much needed book about an insidious custom being imported into this country by heartless immigrants. Americans are admonished to respect the customs of people in countries we visit. We should have no respect for barbarous customs like child slavery and should prosecute the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law — as “The Mom” and “The Dad” in Shyima’s case were.
About the Authors
Shyima Hall was born in Egypt and sold into slavery at the age of eight. When she was ten, her captors brought her to the United States on an illegally obtained temporary visa, and two years later she was rescued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and moved to a group home. Shyima became an American citizen at age twenty-one and hopes to become an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. When Shyima is not working or volunteering at the police station, she enjoys listening to music, watching movies, and spending time with her friends. Shyima lives in Riverside County, California.
Lisa Wysocky is a bestselling fiction and nonfiction author who splits her time between Minnesota and Tennessee. From the mystery “The Opium Equation”, which garnered four awards, to the award-winning “Front of the Class”, coauthored with Brad Cohen and aired as a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie, Lisa’s many books empower readers.