Well. A lot of reviews are describing this book as "gorgeous," and while I concede that it is well-written, I wasn't swept up enough in the writing th...moreWell. A lot of reviews are describing this book as "gorgeous," and while I concede that it is well-written, I wasn't swept up enough in the writing that I was transported by this very slight, strange book. Both style and subject are odd for YA literature, and regardless of where it's shelved, I have a hard time getting over the "what's the point" factor. It's weird that the first cousins thing doesn't bother me but the writing does, hmm?
Updated 5/15/11: Readers who are looking for a well-written YA book that tackles incest would do better to check out Tabitha Suzuma's sensitively written novel Forbidden, which offers much more depth and insight into this difficult subject.(less)
Vivian-the-werewolf lusts after an unsuspecting human boy (MEAT boy, mind you) who is embarrassingly wea...moreThis was an appalling book on so many levels.
Vivian-the-werewolf lusts after an unsuspecting human boy (MEAT boy, mind you) who is embarrassingly weak and supremely uninteresting. She's also fighting off advances from numerous other men who just randomly grab her breasts and has birthdays where her mom and 6 men watch her open gifts of lingerie. And creepiest of all, Gabriel, the 24-year-old head wolf, is after her to be his mate--although that doesn't stop him from sleeping with her 40-year-old mom throughout the book. *shudder*
Vivian is also a self-centered, vain, out of control teenager who calls her mom a bitch and who is surrounded by people who curse all the time for no reason. Every man in the book is a hormone-driven jerk and the few females in it are selfish and unlikable. (Gabriel is actually the most interesting and likable character, except for that icky sleeping with mom thing.) I don't care if you're a werewolf or not, bad behavior is bad behavior. And on top of all this...the book is written in a melodramatic tone with very poor structure and awkward phrasing. After being rejected by the boy she loves, for example, Vivian runs into the woods and screams "I am beautiful! Why can't he see that?" and then drinks a full bottle of booze (given to her by an adult), destroys the room of a girl she's jealous of, and then later (view spoiler)[tries to kill herself by lighting herself on fire (albeit to help "save" the pack) (hide spoiler)]. I can't adequately express how awful scenes like this are, and how surprised I am that more people are not taken aback by the book's content and writing.
This book would be an annoying enough if it were written for adults, but being that it's meant for teenagers, I find the whole thing pretty outrageous. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Really 3.5 stars. The writing is great, set-up is convincing and engrossing..just wish there had been less talky courtroom droning at the end and bett...moreReally 3.5 stars. The writing is great, set-up is convincing and engrossing..just wish there had been less talky courtroom droning at the end and better closure.(less)
This is the story of a boy and a girl who fall in love. Lochan and Maya are best friends who have known each other their entire lives and have helped...moreThis is the story of a boy and a girl who fall in love. Lochan and Maya are best friends who have known each other their entire lives and have helped each other and fiercely loved one another through the many brutally painful experiences of growing up.
The thing is, they also happen to be brother and sister, and the unholy mess of the repercussions from their choices looms over this entire story.
No one who picks up a book like this can be unaware of the potential pitfalls. It's all too easy for an author to resort to the tasteless exploitation of sticky sentiment or breathy fumblings that heighten the excitement of a taboo relationship. What you'll find instead with Forbidden is a book written with stunning insight and incredible compassion, and two characters who will absolutely break your heart.
There is very little dialogue in this novel, and the narrative alternates in chapters between Lochan and Maya's points of view. As such, the reader gets to know both of them very well and experiences in minute detail the complicated terror of their lives at home. The two of them essentially function as the parents of three younger siblings in their household, as they have no father and their alcoholic mother neglects them for weeks at a time. The relationship between 17-year-old Lochan and 16-year-old Maya, already close since they were children, changes subtly and realistically as they gradually become aware of each other as adults.
The clarity of vision and strength and selflessness of both these characters is unparalleled in any young adult book I've ever read, and the way the author draws the reader in with their relationship is astounding. The intimacy and companionship, the joy and maturity, and the self-doubt and heavy responsibilities of these two young people drawn together in a terrible situation is described with extraordinary empathy and understanding.
Without the cruelty and selfishness of similarly challenged characters in books like Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden or the confused, casual amorality of Janet Inglis' characters in the novels Darling and its follow-up Father of Lies, Forbidden intelligently and passionately explores emotions that feel desperately genuine and impossibly tragic. As the book builds unbearably to its unforgettable and devastating conclusion, the things that Lochan and Maya will sacrifice for the ideals of love and responsibility are astounding.
This is perhaps not a perfect book, but it is one that may open up a tiny crack in your armor and flood you with unexpected feeling. Whatever your pre-conceived notions about the sensitive subject of this novel, I defy anyone with a heart to experience the vibrant, pulsing emotions in this story and remain unmoved. I wept like a child--I bet you will, too.
1.5 stars The first book in this series was really entertaining. I liked the concept of a world in which kids born after a certain time period could a...more1.5 stars The first book in this series was really entertaining. I liked the concept of a world in which kids born after a certain time period could all see ghosts, as well as the idea of exploring how difficult that reality might be for both the ghosts and the ones they leave behind. Aura's boyfriend Logan made a stupid mistake and paid for it with his life, leaving her full of guilt and unresolved feelings. In both the previous book and in this one, she has to find a way to help him come to terms with his future as well as coming to terms with her own. Complicating matters is the handsome Zachary and the Department of Metaphysical Purity, both of whom want Logan gone for good.
With such an interesting set-up, expanding on the story that began in Shade should not have been particularly difficult. But when 75% of this sequel is spent on the ridiculous back and forth relationship of Aura-and-Logan and Aura-and-Zachary and then Aura-and-(view spoiler)[Dylan (hide spoiler)], the direction has officially turned from intriguing paranormal series to annoying romance series. I'm one who actually doesn't mind the dreaded love triangle as long as it's handled well and it's not too drawn out, but the events that happen in this book are absolutely ridiculous. And gross. There are more details in my status updates if you care to see them, but suffice to say that in the space of a few weeks, Aura (view spoiler)[ nearly sleeps with three different guys (hide spoiler)] and there are two hugely, hugely icky moments (between her and one of her partners and between (view spoiler)[one of her crushes and another person (hide spoiler)]) that will turn off a lot of women who read this. Or they should, anyway.
I am so disappointed that the author not only chose to spend so much time on the romantic complications in this book, but that she also chose to put in such unforgivable scenarios, all of which could have easily been avoided. I am especially frustrated because there are some nice moments in it involving a brief, bittersweet journal entry that Aura finds as well as some gallant behavior from (view spoiler)[Dylan (hide spoiler)]. I also think it's pretty ballsy that the author pushes the boundaries a little as far as the sexual intimacy between teens goes, without going overboard. It's just too bad that it's spread around with so many partners in this book, and in such an off-putting way. I really don't know if I'll be checking out the next book in the series, but I probably will just to see if it continues on this hideous path. I'm a glutton for punishment that way.
Oh, and by the way? Reading through 36 pages of an unhappy prom (and more pages wasted on talking about it and shopping for it) does not make for good entertainment.
I've read many accounts of crimes that are as horrible as (and sometimes even more horrible than) the terrible things that happen in this book, both i...moreI've read many accounts of crimes that are as horrible as (and sometimes even more horrible than) the terrible things that happen in this book, both in terms of real-life non-fiction crimes and in visceral thrillers. The voyeuristic, no-accountability POV in which this story was presented, however, relegates it to nothing more than straight out, uninspired shlock horror. Even then, the most gruesome parts are skated over and related in such a no-frills way that the book doesn't even succeed in being a genuine shock to your emotions, except in the most clinical of ways.
More than anything else, it is distasteful that the most authentically written aspect of the book seems to be the narrator's feelings of lust and shame towards the victims (as well as some delusions of empowerment), and that so little time was spent exploring any other emotion--and that includes cruelty, hate, entitlement, fear, pity, and remorse. When I read violent fiction, I'm not at all a fan of torture porn for the sake of it--and to me, neither the writing nor the story in this book were enough to make it any more than that. (less)
The concept of a society in which girls are forced into polygamous marriages may not be everyone's idea of a good time, but I like art that pushes bou...moreThe concept of a society in which girls are forced into polygamous marriages may not be everyone's idea of a good time, but I like art that pushes boundaries or attempts to explore unusual subjects in a meaningful way. Besides, the cover is gorgeous! And on the set decoration front, Wither is a novel that seductively beckons the reader with alluring images and positively drips with atmosphere. Languid young women wander around a mansion in lacy gowns waiting to be impregnated by their joint husband, due to drastically shortened life spans that force them into polygamous marriages. It's pretty much the love child of Ally Condie's Matched and the television show Big Love, as styled by Vogue.
While many of the scenarios and language are certainly quite beautiful, however, sometimes I wasn't sure whether I should laugh at the repeated images of our heroine lounging on a satin bedspread eating candy, all while she's supposedly upset over the situation she's in. There's a strange lack of internal dialogue and emotional distance that make it difficult to empathize with Rhine, and very few scenes that come close to evoking the horror that lies beneath the beautiful exterior of the pampered world in which she lives.
This whole concept just seems like a weird one for YA literature, too. In order for the icky factors of child brides (one of them is only 13), kidnappings, forced marriages, fixation on impregnation, murder, medical experimentations, and so on to be successful, they needed to be overridden by solid world-building, strong characters, and emotional depth. Unfortunately, the whys and wherefores of how society has disintegrated into this is never really explained, and as a result most of set-up for this world seems fairly ludicrous. The questions that were raised in my mind were also never really answered, nor the characters adequately developed. There are surface attempts to create relationships between Rhine and Linden and between the sister wives, but none of them seemed very real or compelling to me--and Rhine's interest in Gabriel seems due to proximity more than anything else. How can people live this closely together for so long and know next to nothing about one another? But is there really anything under the surface at all? After spending 358 pages with Rhine, I still don't feel as though I really know who she is or why people are drawn to her, except that they're supposed to be. It also strains credulity that a healthy young man would (view spoiler)[chastely lie in bed with her for over 10 months and never consummate the marriage, even as he's going through the Kama Sutra with another wife. (hide spoiler)]
Overall, this novel just needed more tension, more anguish, more depth, and more feeling. By the time Rhine finally takes some action, I was fairly impatient with how long it had taken the story took to get there, as well as annoyed by how little information was revealed. I'm also disappointed in the missed opportunity to explore the unusual dynamic of a polygamous relationship, which was one of the weakest aspects of the book. I'm curious to see where the story goes, however, so I'll probably pick up the next installment in the series. But I'm crossing my fingers that the beauty of the language and imagery will also be matched by more intricate plotting and more genuine emotion.
The full text of this review may be found in The Midnight Garden. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Is it possible to write a story about a child being imprisoned and make it gut-wrenching and relevant? After the disappointment of various different b...moreIs it possible to write a story about a child being imprisoned and make it gut-wrenching and relevant? After the disappointment of various different books I've read recently involving kidnapping and child endangerment, I wasn't sure, particularly when it comes to the YA genre. But after reading Living Dead Girl, I have my answer: it's yes. Resoundingly, unequivocally, yes.
15-year-old "Alice" has lived with Ray since she was 10. Kidnapped from a school field trip and taken to Shady Pines Apartments, she lives among ordinary people who don't really see her or don't really want to. Every day Ray cuddles her on his lap and forces her to submit to him, punishing her with his fists and his words if she does anything to displease him. Her attempts to defy him--including one botched escape--are met with out-of-control violence until her resistance is completely beaten down.
This is not an easy book to read. While it is not explicit, the terrible things that Alice is subjected to are not glossed over. I've seen some criticisms that the book goes overboard in describing what she is forced to do, but I disagree. The reality is that there are children out there who have been and no doubt currently are subjected to this kind of torture, and the description and repetition of these acts helps us to understand in some small way what victims have to go through. I never thought the descriptions crossed the line in terms of tastelessness or exploitation.
The author does an incredible job of describing Alice's terror and confusion, as well as her eventual numbness. There are many details worked into the story that have a ring of truth, including the dull repetition of her days watching tv, the anxiety when Ray comes home, the punishments meted out for small infractions, the attempts to keep her small and childlike, Alice's lank appearance and poor circulation from lack of nutrition, etc. Most importantly, the author touches on the way abuse tends to perpetrate more abuse and the awful resignation that Alice begins to feel to her plight.
I don't understand why my shell keeps living. Breathing. Why won't it listen to me, to the little part I have that isn't Ray, to that tiny once upon a time girl who just wants to close her eyes and never wake up again?
There were so many details that made me hurt with empathy for Alice, not only in relation to her sexual abuse, but also in relation to the way Ray starves her as a means to control her and to keep her from growing up. The descriptions of her sharp hunger after days of eating practically nothing were heart-wrenching. Alice describes tasting a sandwich with "not one, but two slices of...salty cheese and slippery ham and cottony bread, so light in my mouth. I could eat these forever, until the world ended and beyond."
I have a great deal of admiration for the author for writing about this subject with such restraint and sympathy. This isn't a perfect book--I thought the "once upon a time" device was repetitious and not entirely successful--but it is a searingly memorable one that handles a difficult subject with great skill. I don't feel that "serious" books that are primarily about kidnapping and imprisonment are enjoyable for the sake of pure entertainment, and that's the primary objection I have to the fictional books I've previously read that deal with this subject. I go into this more in my review of the disappointing and much-lauded Room, but suffice to say that what I hope to gain from reading about such unhappy subjects are some degree of insight (into both the victim's suffering and the perpetrator's motivation) as well as a great deal of empathy. I got both in spades with Living Dead Girl.
3.5 stars I have only read one Sara Zarr book before this one, 2011's How to Save a Life, and as I read Sweethearts all I could think about was how mu...more3.5 stars I have only read one Sara Zarr book before this one, 2011's How to Save a Life, and as I read Sweethearts all I could think about was how much the author has grown as a writer in the three years since this one was written. I love the theme of this book overall, which explores the bittersweetness of people coming in and out of your life; I didn't even mind that we don't learn as many details about what happened to Cameron back in the past as we might've hoped. Or that the main character spends so much of the novel frozen in time.
What kept me from enjoying this more than many of my friends have, however, is that emotional urgency and truth often seemed to be secondary to the writing style. I think the structure of alternating back and forth, and the cliffhangers that purposefully were staged because of that, just left me feeling too jumbled and disjointed. Especially since it's fairly easy to guess what's going on, and there are only so many times you can chop up one very important anecdote/flashback without leaving the reader frustrated.
Jenna herself also felt a little unreal to me. While I thought the author did a great job with writing a believable character who feels out of place even though she has everything she thought she'd ever wanted (I especially liked the moment when she equates sex with her boyfriend with her fixation on food--enjoyable, but something that she also wished were over so she could move on with her life), it was stretches believability to me that Jenna was so self-aware that she could pinpoint Cameron's departure as the catalyst for her changing herself and her relationship with her mom, and that that became such a driving force in her life. Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware of how strongly certain relationships can pull at you, particularly childhood ones. But Jenna seemed to think of so little else and was such a stranger in her own land that it felt very odd and not entirely realistic.
I really loved Steph, however, and the note of truth in that friendship. And Cameron's letter and the unresolved feelings that lie there felt very real. I just wish I felt as strongly connected to the overall plot of the story, although I'm still very much looking forward to this author's next book. So overall, I did like it, though I didn't quite love it the way I thought I would.(less)
I hadn't killed anyone all winter, and I have to say I felt pretty good about that.
So begins the very first good YA mermaid novel I've ever r...more3.5 stars
I hadn't killed anyone all winter, and I have to say I felt pretty good about that.
So begins the very first good YA mermaid novel I've ever read--and hooray, they're eeeevil, too! (view spoiler)[I seem to have started a trend in describing this book this way. (hide spoiler)] After trudging through so many books with insipid mermaids or ones that barely qualified as mermaids, it's so great to read a story in which sea creatures have purpose. And deadly intent. And tails. These merpeople aren't drawn to kill people just for sport, but also because they crave the energy harvested from positive human emotions.
One of the things I find most appealing about the idea of mermaids in literature is that I would love to know what it feels like to swim swiftly and endlessly through deep oceans. What's it like to live under the sea? And if you're part-fish, where does your aquatic side end and your human side begin? That's an aspect I thought was touched on in a very nice way in this book. Migration patterns, animal instinct, the pure physicality of painful transformation, all of these provided an immersive and believable mermaidy experience in a way that I hadn't come across before.
The urge to migrate was irresistible. Far more powerful than the urge to kill. With each rise and fall of the moon, with each turn of the tide, it grew more impossible to ignore.
I also liked the male POV, the push and pull of attraction/repulsion you feel for Calder and his sisters, their need to be near water, and the author's descriptive writing style. I was less engrossed in the human and emotional side of the story, however, including the relationship with perfectly-fine but fairly ordinary Lily, the somewhat flat secondary characters, and the romance. The central mystery/driving plot lines involving a murder in Calder's family and his need to take revenge could have been more streamlined as well--and perhaps the twists and turns hidden a bit better.
I wasn't bothered, however, by a few aspects that will probably drive some readers crazy, including Calder's hunting of his prey, driven by both instinct and human emotion, or something a bit squickier--(view spoiler)[Calder admits to falling into his siren sister's hypnotic lure and later, she goes a little batshit crazy in pouring out her feelings for him (hide spoiler)]--primarily because I don't think it was handled in an tasteless way, and there is some validity in its origin. Between their cruel, mocking games, careless values, and animal nature, it's not entirely unexpected. I think the author also deserves big credit for the gutsiness in her decision to keep her mercreatures true to themselves, even if it meant that the reader is shocked or turned off by their actions.
It seems that those who have had more scornful reactions to this book are readers who don't seem to read very many mermaid books, so I'd recommend this one specifically for those who love them or those who read a lot of YA paranormal romance. I love the idea of beauty and danger combined in a creature that humans can't seem to resist, so I happened to like this one a lot! And I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes next.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
She Reads By the Seashore
Here are a couple of photos I snapped at the beach in January, by the way! We found all kinds of sand dollars and pretty shells that afternoon, so it felt like a pretty perfect day to be reading this book.
After three decades, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho still stands out as a masterpiece of suspense. June 16 marks the anniversary of the movie's 1960 releas...moreAfter three decades, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho still stands out as a masterpiece of suspense. June 16 marks the anniversary of the movie's 1960 release and it's a good opportunity to dive into the impressive story behind the film. I don't always have the patience to sit down and read an entire exhaustive biography, so I really enjoyed reading this fairly short, focused piece on one particular project.
The Crime Behind the Film
Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho traces the origin of the story to the infamous body snatcher and murderer Ed Gein, upon whom the fictional novel by Robert Bloch was based. Bloch's book was anonymously optioned by Hitchcock (as was his habit) for the paltry sum of $9000 and no percentage of the profits, which must have been a hard pill to swallow after seeing the film's eventual success. It's interesting that the book's prologue delves right into the gruesome details of Gein's crimes, for although the facts of the case will not be news to anyone who has dipped a toe into his history, the ghastly details may be somewhat repugnant to the casual reader.
The Making of the Film
The book quickly moves onto Hitchcock's deal-making, pre-production work, and casting, however. Hitchcock personally financed Psycho and deferred his usual director's fee in exchange for majority ownership of the negative, so he enjoyed a fair amount of autonomy with his choices. The author goes into great detail about the hiring and firing of screenwriters, crew members, and various other below-the-line negotiations that might be a little on the dry side for some readers. I personally enjoy learning about budget details for these kinds of projects, however, so the author kept my attention with his meticulously researched facts and figures, many of which were uncovered in discussions with Hitchcock himself during a series of interviews shortly before the director's death. It was particularly interesting to read about Hitch's relationship with Saul Bass, the graphic designer famous for his work on The Man with the Golden Gun, Vertigo, and West Side Story, and the man who designed Psycho's simple but evocative title treatment. There has been much debate over the years over who actually was responsible for directing the infamous shower scene with Janet Leigh, and the author's interviews with cast and crew sheds some interesting light on Bass' storyboards for this scene and his role as sometime assistant director.
The Man Behind the Film
Though this book is primarily a fairly objective documentation of how a film project came to be, the portrait it also sketches of the man behind the film is fascinating. You expect a man with his talent and showmanship to be shrewd and exacting and stubborn and clear-sighted, but it is a pleasure to discover that Hitchcock also placed a huge amount of trust in many of his collaborators, that he seemed to delight in surprising those who caught his fancy, and was a skilled trouble-shooter who found ingenious technical solutions to the innovative shots he was undertaking. It's easy to praise the film now with the benefit of modern perspective, but back then, Hitchcock really had to push to get this project made the way he wanted to. This ranged from using voyeuristic camera angles, suggestive lack of clothing, and of course, shocking murder scenes that had viewers fainting in the aisles. The film caused a sensation when it was released, and it's funny to hear that even then, directors had to include more violence than they intended to keep in order to play the ratings game with the MPAA.
Hitchcock's influence on the filmmakers who followed him cannot be overstated, and it's intriguing to read the play-by-play details for one of his most well-known films. All in all, this was a very enjoyable read and is recommended for any Hitchcock fan or student of film history. (The book has apparently already been optioned for a feature film.) I'd love to see a similar treatment someday for my personal Hitchcock favorite Marnie, as it would be great to gain some insight into what Hitchcock went through to get a film about a frigid kleptomaniac made. Right now, however, you'll have to excuse me while I go watch Psycho again.
Read an excerpt from the book:
If you'd like a sneak peek at the book, the publishers have made an excerpt from the book available which describes the crime upon which Psycho was based. Warning: the content of the preview is not explicit, but it is also not for the faint of heart.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review. (less)
The strongest parts of this book describe the confusing emotions that Jeff feels after he returns to his family: anger, guilt, confusion, and embarras...moreThe strongest parts of this book describe the confusing emotions that Jeff feels after he returns to his family: anger, guilt, confusion, and embarrassment. Readers will sympathize with Jeff's admittance that he submitted to some of his captor's attentions willingly in order to get food and the complicated truth of the fact that sexual coercion can often feel good, which is why it's so insidious--and why it's a source of so much shame.
Many of the post-return details aren't quite as convincing, however, including the way law enforcement and health officials would deal with a child in this situation. While they would certainly be sensitive to Jeff's trauma, it's difficult to imagine that he would not be put under more pressure to submit to a physical examination, asked for details earlier about his kidnapper, etc, etc. It also would have helped the reader to become more engrossed in Jeff's story if the timeline had been a little more straightforward and flashbacks used with more frequency.
This is overall very well-written, however, and provides good insight into how a teen might feel when he's survived such a terrible, life-altering experience. (less)
This was a hard book to rate, because it was fascinating to read and was very well-written and structured, and yet it's not a book that I really enjoy...moreThis was a hard book to rate, because it was fascinating to read and was very well-written and structured, and yet it's not a book that I really enjoyed. Even though I like the fact that the author writes very frankly and convincingly puts us into a teenage boy's head (he also does a great job of showing the grooming process as well as Josh's reaction to Eve), some of the flashbacks (and a few too many flickers) bordered a bit too much on the gratuitous side for my taste.
The truth is that sexual predators are often successful because what they do feels good. And new. And exciting. But when it comes to 12 year old boys being molested, I'm uncomfortable with this amount of time devoted to the titillating aspects of this scenario. While the story does have quite a bit about the aftermath and Josh's other life and future, a little more time spent on the emotional trauma--other than how it affects his romantic relationships--would have made for a more satisfying experience, at least for me. The way women are portrayed is also fairly one-dimensional and a bit disturbing.
Still, the author deserves props for handling a tricky subject in a way that's both well-structured, well-researched, and keeps you absolutely riveted to the page.(less)
Some good stuff in this one, but the characters are pretty one-dimensional and things got a little too crazy without fully committing to it. Also very...moreSome good stuff in this one, but the characters are pretty one-dimensional and things got a little too crazy without fully committing to it. Also very easy to guess all the plot twists.
This is a monumental book in many ways. It's one of the few times that a victim of prolonged sexual imprisonment has come forth to tell her story, and...moreThis is a monumental book in many ways. It's one of the few times that a victim of prolonged sexual imprisonment has come forth to tell her story, and the importance of having a record of this first-hand account cannot be discounted. Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped at the age of 11 and held captive for 18 years while a man repeatedly raped her and had her bear two of his children. She was miraculously freed at the age of 29 and, two years later, seems to be overall pretty well-adjusted and happy.
I've read a fair amount on this subject, but it's still very painful to read about Jaycee's story. One of the awful things about her situation is that her captor was "nice" to her when he wasn't assaulting her, sobbing and apologizing profusely, and telling her she was "helping him" with his problem. The confusion of dealing with that must do untold amounts of damage, since if someone is always monstrous, it's much easier to look upon him as the enemy. While it's natural to wonder about these things, it has always troubled me when I hear strongly worded questions about why victims in these situations don't try harder to escape. I think it's very difficult to imagine the amount of physical and psychological fear and confusion that these individuals undergo, as well as the coping mechanisms that they must use in order to simply survive. Through Jaycee's words, it's possible to come closer to understanding how someone in a devastating situation is relentlessly conditioned into doing a dominant person's bidding--and how her reality changed so much that she began to look upon being separated from her captor with crippling fear of the unknown.
While I am glad that readers have a chance to read Jaycee's story, it does worry me that it comes so soon after her release in 2009. Elizabeth Smart has similarly just signed on to be a commentator for ABC News, and it makes you wonder if Elisabeth Fritzl can be too far behind. I cannot even begin to imagine the kind of damage this kind of violence and depravity does to someone, let alone a child whose character hadn't even been fully formed at the time of her kidnapping. It troubles me to think that in our insistent need for information and our need for heroic stories in this modern age, we may unintentionally be harming these poor women with the pressure to present a pulled-together, picture-perfect image for our benefit.
But perhaps I don't give enough credit to their strength. While there is a great deal of pain in reading Jaycee's story as you relive her suffering, it is also impossible not to be moved by the resiliency of the human spirit. The joy she took in the pets that came and went over the years; her attempts to stay positive, chronicled through journal entries; her pleasure in the birth of her "beautiful baby girls." One of the things that touched me the most was the notion that a child of 17--with a fifth grade education--was determined to provide some sort of education and future for her two children by downloading daily lesson plans and teaching them herself. It speaks to an extraordinary spirit, as well as to the extraordinary capacity of the human heart.
The fact that these kinds of violent acts happen in the world are incredibly shameful and tragic. In sharing her story, however, Jaycee Dugard has helped many readers to see that human beings can and do survive impossible situations...and that it's important to appreciate the many precious freedoms that we so often take for granted.
A note about the book: This is an incredible piece of testimony to a shocking perpetuation of violence against a human being. I am glad that the publishers chose to keep Jaycee's young voice, which sounds unspoiled and unguarded in a surprising and touching way. There were some editorial missteps, however, that I felt detracted from the book quite a bit, including leaving in inconsistent tenses, confusing timelines, and switching back and forth perhaps a little too often between past and present for a fairly short book. Addressing these issues would have streamlined the book immensely, and it's puzzling that more efforts weren't made to provide a better framework for the story.
Additional Reading: Readers who are interested in exploring other books with similar topics might consider Living Dead Girl, which is the best fictionalized story about kidnapping and imprisonment that I've read to date. I was NOT a huge fan of the much more lauded Room or the more recent Circle 9, however.(less)