Child abductions are a living nightmare for parents. They sometimes end in a short time with the child being located, but other times, they end in death. Even when there is no official death and the body cannot be located, it is usually assumed, after so many years have passed, that the missing child has been killed. One person whose mother never lost hope was Jaycee Dugard. She was missing for approximately eighteen years when she was suddenly discovered and her liberation become headline news across the country. Jaycee tells her story in the pages of this book, A Stolen Life: A Memoir.
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Book Facts and Figures:
A Stolen Life is 273 pages in length and it follows a roughly chronological account of Dugard’s eighteen years in captivity. It starts off with her talking about her young childhood growing up with her mother and stepfather. It then proceeds to the actual kidnapping by pedophile Phillip Garrito and his wife Nancy and the sexual abuse Dugard was forced to endure.
What follows are many unnumbered chapters that follow a timeline of events. Jaycee Dugard talks about her constant confusion over everything; her two pregnancies and successful deliveries of two baby girls; her developing relationship with Nancy and Phillip; Her occasional venture off the property and into town; close calls with law enforcement; and her ultimate discovery and liberation. Scattered throughout the book are personal reflections on the events, occasional pictures, and a listing of journal entry accounts from select moments. The book ends with Jaycee Dugard talking about her newfound freedom and her attempts to adjust to life in the real world.
Jaycee Dugard has a story to share, and it is a story unlike any other you may have heard before. Thousands of children are kidnapped each year, some of whom die and some of whom are found after a short time. Findings after a couple of years are rare; findings after five years even rarer still. But can you imagine being kidnapped for eighteen years? It’s an astonishing situation, yet it is exactly what happened to Jaycee Dugard, a young girl kidnapped at the age of 11 and not found until she was 29 years of age and had two children with her kidnapper/pedophile/rapist, Phillip Garrito.
Jaycee Dugard tells her story in A Stolen Life and what she has to say is very disturbing- to the point that some readers will not be able to finish. Phillip Garrito abducted Jaycee with one motive in mind: To have his own, personal, go- to sex toy. In a very short time following the abduction and locking her up in a room at the rear of Garrito’s property, Phillip started to demand that Dugard perform sexual acts. The abuse continued for many years and resulted in two pregnancies. All the while, wife Nancy was on the sideline, knowing well what was going on but doing nothing to stop it.
Not every segment of the book is tragic, however, and some of it doesn’t add up, but I suppose it is likely commonplace for a known pedophile. For example, other than the sex and control, the Garrito’s were otherwise reasonably nice to Dugard and even purchased her things to keep her company and keep her entertained, like a television, computer, dog, cat, and so on. They didn’t abuse the two children Dugard had and even tried to live like an actual family. It’s all very odd, and Phillip Garrito’s behavior on many occasions is very strange, to say the least. He takes up reading the Bible and quotes it at length, but at the same time, he blames anything bad that happens in the world on angels. He says that angels are evil and cause of all the wicked acts in the world.
A Stolen Life tries to bring all of the events together and it does include some reflective moments from Dugard where she looks back on what happened and tried to make sense out of everything. She points out the great help she has experienced from her therapist and how she has managed to get beyond the hate and move on with her life. The reflective moments are a good addition to the book because they allow Dugard to assess the situation now that she is freed and try to connect the dots between what she was going through, what the Garrito’s were doing, and her own inability to take action, even when the opportunity was clearly present. Even when she was finally rescued eighteen years later and was speaking with law enforcement personnel, she was still under Phillip Garrito’s spell. She was out in public and was still playing along and doing whatever Phillip told her to say and do.
What Jaycee Dugard had to endure is incredible and I applaud her for doing such a great job returning to society and living as a normal person. However, just because what she went through is tragic and her courage amazing does not mean that this is a great book. The writing of the book is weak and it reads like it was taken directly from a diary, with incomplete sentences and bad grammar. In addition, there are no quotes or anything else to hold your interest. And unlike some other child abuse books, like A Child Called It, there is no suspense or feeling of anticipation in this book. With A Child Called It, you couldn’t stop turning the pages because David Pelzer wrote in such a way that you just had to keep reading to find out what happened next. There is no such feeling with A Stolen Life. In fact, the book at many points is rather boring, not to mention repetitive. I realize that Jaycee Dugard likely lived a very lonely life and missed her family dearly, but how many times can a person make such a statement in the same book? I haven’t seen any statistics, but I wonder how many times she uses the word “lonely” in this book. I also wonder why she didn’t try to write with a greater feeling of suspense and why she didn’t seek the assistance of an editor or another, experienced author who could make the book read better.
Other issues I have with A Stolen Life are more structural and not necessarily a reflection on the book’s overall value. I like that it includes some pictures, but they are scattered around and are low quality photos. It would have been better to have a photo section, printed on glossier paper that would make the pictures clearer and allow the reader to put a face with the each of the people in the book. The book would also be better with numbered chapters for better reference and perhaps some appendices with related information.
Overall, A Stolen Life is not the greatest book in terms of its writing and other qualities, but it is still a book good enough to recommend. The story of Jaycee Dugard and her ordeal at the hands of a pedophile is a shocking tale and while it could have been stated better, A Stolen Life at least succeeds at letting people know what it was like and what was going through Dugard’s mind as she lost eighteen years of her existence at the hands of a deranged man and his passive wife.