Shyima was rescued from four years of child slavery at the age of twelve, and has since created her own (free) life and done all she could to help others avoid her fate. Shyima was born in Egypt, the 7th of 11 children. She had a happy childhood in some ways, playing marbles, playing with her younger siblings, and visiting her maternal family members. Her father, however, was abusive, though she did not fully recognize it at the time.
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When her older sister is accused of stealing from her employer, Shyima is selected to take her sister's place to repay the debt. She doesn't learn until years later that her parents actually did receive some money for her work. Either way, however, Shyima is there against her will, in an emotionally draining and exhausting environment, working long hours, and she herself does not directly receive the fruits of her labors. She is only eight years old, and she wants to be back with her family.
When she is about ten, her captors move to Irvine, California. She is the only one among the servants and slaves to go with them. Her conditions become worse, because she is the only one left serving them and she is blamed if anything goes wrong. She spends up to 20 hours a day cooking and cleaning, and has one meal a day. She of course does not go to school, is not taught English, and is usually kept out of sight.
After about two more years, a neighbor tips off the police and Shyima is rescued. She goes to a center for children who need help, and eventually lives with three different foster homes. Each foster home has its own strengths and weaknesses. Her first foster home is Muslim and bilingual – Arabic and English – and provides her with a structured homeschool environment to help her study. Shyima connects well with one of her classmates / neighbors. Her second foster home allows her to attend public school because their local Muslim school does not have students her age, but speaks only Arabic at home, limiting her ability to learn English more rapidly. She does not feel as supported as she feels she needs to be.
Her third foster family is not Muslim, and speaks only English. They send her to public school, and she loves her younger siblings. They eventually adopt her. Over time, Shyima feels friction with her adoptive mother, however. Shyima primarily agrees to the adoption because she thinks it will help her become as US Citizen faster. It doesn't, though. During this time, Shyima also helps with the prosecution of her former captors. She receives a large settlement which is placed in an account under her name. She benefits from some of the funds, but her adoptive parents also “borrow” a large portion of it and never repayed it. Shyima had ear-marked that money for college, and now it was gone. She also discovers she has rheumatoid arthritis. This is not something most teenagers have to deal with, but she does, and she learns to take care of herself over the long term so that her symptoms remain manageable.
Shyima also earns her driver's license and starts working. She has largely caught up in school, though English and math still give her more difficulty than other subjects. However, she is earning her own money, doing well at work, and making friends. She graduates from high school (a big accomplishment after starting from kindergarten level at age twelve with English as a second language), and spends three years in community college. She drops out, but views her dropout as temporary; as she writes the book, her goal is still to go into law enforcement, which requires a college degree. By then, she has worked her way into managerial positions at various local stores which have been paying her way.
While working as a manager at one store, she meets a man named Daniel, who she finds is someone she can trust. Trust has always been a big issue for her. They begin dating. About nine months after they begin dating, Shyima finally becomes a US citizen – a long-standing dream she has had. She also becomes pregnant. She wants to keep the baby, and though she doesn't mention marrying him, Daniel is supportive of her and excited about their child. In addition to her work, family, and friends, Shyima regularly speaks out about child slavery and does her best to accept as many speaking invitations she can. She has found it to be one way that she can make a difference for others.
Best part of story, including ending:
Hidden Girl addresses the important issue of human trafficking, which many Americans associate with other countries, but which actually is sometimes sneakily imported. Shyima's story serves to raise awareness and to help Americans be aware of what they can do to help stop it.
Best scene in story:
When Shyima passed her naturalization test, she was incredibly happy. English and studying had always been harder for her because she didn't have the opportunity to start learning English or studying until she was twelve. But becoming a US citizen was also an important goal for her.
Opinion about the main character:
Shyima is determined, but also careful about herself. She does what she believes to be right for herself at that time. As a result (at the very least in part) of her past, she also analyzes more carefully than most what is important about her relationships with others, and what does or does not merit trust.