REVIEW: A Stolen Life

BOOK: A Stolen Lifea-stolen-life-9781451629194_hr.jpg
AUTHOR: Jaycee Dugard
PAGES: 273
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster
MY RATING: ★ ★ ★ (3/5)

On 10 June 1991, eleven-year-old Jaycee Dugard was abducted from a school bus stop within sight of her home in Tahoe, California. It was the last her family and friends saw of her for over eighteen years. On 26 August 2009, Dugard, her daughters, and Phillip Craig Garrido appeared in the office of her kidnapper’s parole officer in California. Their unusual behaviour sparked an investigation that led to the positive identification of Jaycee Lee Dugard, living in a tent behind Garrido’s home. During her time in captivity, at the age of fourteen and seventeen, she gave birth to two daughters, both fathered by Garrido.

Dugard’s memoir is written by the 30-year-old herself and covers the period from the time of her abduction in 1991 up until the present. In her stark, utterly honest and unflinching narrative, Jaycee opens up about what she experienced, including how she feels now, a year after being found. Garrido and his wife Nancy have since pleaded guilty to their crimes.

I can honestly say that I’m finding this a very difficult review to write.

I am grateful for this book and everything it represents. It’s rare for someone who has gone through such a horrific experience to want to come public and relive those moments to complete strangers. This book is completely valuable in the fact that it’s one of the few times we’ve gotten to hear a more in depth encounter first hand from the victim. I can only imagine how difficult it was, not only to live through the experiences, but to deal with the aftermath. Jaycee Dugard has such courage and her positivity is overwhelming in A Stolen Life.

I am grateful for what this book represents, but I did not enjoy the execution.

“Lonely, that’s how I feel. Lonely and incomplete. I want to run but have no idea where to run to. I want to yell, but I don’t want to hurt anybody. I want to say something, but I don’t know what to say. Love is the easy part; it’s the living without the love you need that is hard.”

When Jaycee was abducted by Phillip Garrido in 1991, I was about seven months away from being born. Her disappearance was national news that I didn’t grow up with, and while I knew of the incident, I knew very little. What I recall most was the year she was found. Abduction is terrifying. Sexual imprisonment is terrifying. I feel like your mind can only take you so far when you don’t have the firsthand experience to relate it to, and in this case that’s a very good thing. I felt like I was expecting a little more in terms of what happened, and the actual story felt quite tame. In fact, when I finished the book I went and did some digging online, and watched some videos, and there were times where I felt like I learned more about the case and the events from those sources.

But how do I say that without sounding like an awful human being and without disregarding the situation Dugard was forced to endure?

I suppose what I mean to say is that this books is more the emotional journey for Jaycee and the book reads very much like an outlet for Dugard to reflect on the events and move forward. This is a monumental and personal step.

“There are no words that offer comfort, but to not write anything at all feels wrong. Hearts become attached as easily as they become broken and our minds are left sifting through the pieces, which I fear take a lifetime to put back together to achieve any form of acceptance.”

I think one of the most rattling things for me personally was the way that Garrido treated Jaycee while he kept her captive. There is nothing even remotely okay about what he did, and yet the fact that he treated her like some very disturbed form of family was really insightful. While I could never find justification or sympathy in my heart for the man, it was jarring to read about his humanity. This man was disturbed and he really needed some help. He did a very good job at manipulating the people around him, and I was so grateful to be offered the chance to hear Jaycee recognize that she was being manipulated, and her reflection.

While I sometimes found the book difficult to read because the writing felt a little juvenile (which given the situation is not surprising), I was still so incredibly inspired by Jaycee’s thirst for knowledge and her dedication to learning. Even though she didn’t have the opportunity to finish school while she was imprisoned, she used what she had at her disposal to keep her mind sharp. There are passages from a journal that was kept during her capture, and reading them showed so much emotional maturity it broke my heart. They are not subjects a girl of her age should have had to be dealing with, but it was all that she knew. There is such resilience and strength behind her words. It was often overwhelming.

“I make up stories in my head a lot. I have made up one about a boy that has come from the stars. He flies around the world and when he hears a child crying he always comes to investigate. I imagine that one day this Star Boy hears me crying because I cry every single day. He thinks my cries are especially heart wrenching, and so he combs the earth in search of me. When he finds me he is able to open the window of my prison and I take his hand and he flies me all around the world. But in the end he always returns me to my prison. I wonder why this is so.”

If you’re interested in seeing how Jaycee Dugard has managed to hold herself together through such a traumatic experience, then I recommend picking up this book. You’ll be awed by the strength you find in the human spirit.


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