Review: Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher

Review: Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher

You leaned back onto your elbows. As the sun set farther, the colors became vivid. A red washed over everything, brightening the darker sections in the painting. Shafts of light lit up the floor, illuminating the millions of pained dots and flower petals there. Red and orange and pinks intensified all around us, until it felt like we were sitting in the middle of a burning pit of fire … or in the middle of the sunset itself.

Review - Stolen: A Letter to My Captor on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

Review - Stolen: A Letter to My Captor on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

I tried to settle in to sleep one evening but could not bring myself to float into dreamland, so I reached for my usual curative: a good book. The first pages of Stolen: A Letter to My Captor did nothing to bring me into restfulness. 

Lucy Christopher’s novel in the form of a letter is written by the captive Gemma to her abductor. In her letter she describes a painting created by her captor on fire with life, separating him somewhat from his foul actions. Flowing from the memories Gemma holds, her experience becomes more than a story of abduction. In most books of this type, an abductor comes clothed in shades of black with little room for anything other than evil intentions, while the abducted is swathed in innocence all white and airy.

However, Stolen offers layer upon layer of complexity.

The reality that pours from Gemma’s heart swept me along with her emotions plunging into fear then rising high with hope and later affection for her abductor, the handsome Ty with his rugged, strong physique and familiar blue eyes making her suspect that he must somehow be familiar.

The letter begins with Gemma, a sweet, lovely and typical teen girl who leaves her parents for a few moments while waiting for their flight from Bangkok while on vacation. She’d been arguing with her parents and wanted respite from them before going on their family vacation. Her respite turns into a long separation, a separation that would forever change Gemma and her parents in ways no one could anticipate. 

While Gemma’s sitting at a table in the airport coffee shop, an older and oddly familiar looking guy comes to her with two coffees in hand. Sitting one in front of her and placing another across from her, he introduces himself with, “I’m Ty.”

I could see that your arms were hard and tanned and the skin on your face was weathered. You were as brown as a stretch of dirt

They begin a conversation about Gemma’s life and her parents. She slowly sips her coffee thinking how amazing it is that this older guy seems interested in her. Soon, she writes, she could feel herself beginning to babble. She also notices that although it’s not hot, sweat begins to trickle down her new acquaintance’s forehead while his eyes flicker nervously about the small coffee shop invoking an imagine of a snake preying upon its victim.

Things changed then. I slowed down, while everything around me sped up. It’s amazing really, what a tiny bit of powder can do.

I’d picked up Stolen thinking I would relax with a good book and sleep would  soon overtake me. This wasn’t going to happen, not with the intensity that an open letter from Gemma to Ty in the form of a three hundred page book lying open before me.

Ty, in an amazing feat of stealthy planning, brings Gemma to the remote desert of the Australian Outback; they disappear into heat and barren beauty, to Ty’s own fortress where their closest neighbors are poisonous snakes, an array of spiders, insects and the occasional wild camel, one that Ty also captures just as he did Gemma. Ty, with Gemma at his side, hobbles a wild camel and ties her to his car. Gemma turns to the frightened creature whispering that she wants to free her, asking the newly captured camel to take her away with her.

I moved around so I could look at her face. Even scared, she had beautiful eyes. Dark and brown with soft-looking eyelashes. She stopped searching for her herd to glance at me.

Gemma touches her gently telling her that she is trapped like her. Thus begins a great affection between the two as well as a metaphor of Gemma to the camel. 

Do not imagine that Gemma’s experience is one of simple horror with desperate attempts to escape.

Horror at her solitary existence, desperation to escape and fear of what Ty may intend all become her constant companions, nagging and tearing at her heart. If this were the true core of the story, I could have easily closed it that first evening drifting into sleep. Sleep did not come for a few hours. I could not close my mind to Gemma’s letter.

Gemma’s new life without freedom in a strange way becomes a gift of freedom. She looks at herself, her parents and even Ty through a lens she never would have known without her imprisonment in the desert, without living life at its most elemental.

It would be easy to shrug and say,

Oh yeah – Stockholm Syndrome and all of that. I’ve heard of how that happens.

Don’t fall into that trap when reading Stolen. It’s more than that. It’s psychological, true enough. But, it explores the emotions and motivation of both the captive and the captor. 

Neither Gemma or Ty should be seen as simply the victim and the transgressor. Their lives and their experiences weave into a psychological story that’s both beautiful and tragic. 

Upon closing the pages, a sadness for both Ty and Gemma stayed with me.

I’ve thought about their story, of how easily many of us fall into labeling or judging others. This might be the easy road to travel but it is not an enlightened one, nor one that will bring anyone to higher ground. Lucy Christopher has written a fine book that encourages her reader to take the road less travelled which leads to thoughtful contemplation of a complex story.

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