A Stolen Life: a Memoir by Jaycee Dugard
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011
*Please note that the following post may contain spoilers and does not summarize the text, as it was written as part of my coursework for LIS 7220 Materials for Young Adults, and the first group of intended readers are my professor and classmates, who should be familiar with the book. If I make adjustments or an additional post with summary/review information in the future, I will post an update link here. Now read on!
My friend and colleague Sonja has been reading the books for this course along with me, which is fun and also motivating. A Stolen Life is the only book that she has outright refused to read from the course list. Looking at the book flaps, I knew that the content would be rough, but only after beginning the book did I start to remember the news stories I had heard and the light of what I was about to emotionally experience started to dawn on me, at which point I told Sonja I was jealous that she had the option to skip it and that it was my goal to rip straight through the book as quickly as I could, like ripping off a band-aid.
Jaycee Dugard softened this book in terms of its traumatic content, probably both for herself and for the reader, and in many ways this makes it more powerful. What she doesn’t tell and where she doesn’t dwell tells the story of trauma more than any expose-writing could.
Having had my own set of youthful negative sexual experiences, as I’m certain many other readers young and old have as well, I am often in conversation with others (females, particularly) about dealing with our unique traumas, and how impossible it is to compare them even if they share similar themes. I was not scared of reading about kidnapping or mental warping but about sexual assault. So I’m thankful that Ms. Dugard doesn’t go out of her way to make unnecessarily explicit/graphic her rape experiences, but still makes the emotional experience clear.
The “Reflection” pieces she inserts towards the end of most chapters is a stroke a genius. I think it helps the reader cope, reminds us that these events are in the past and that the writer has already done a lot of work to get past them, and at the same time it does something artistic as well regarding how one experiences trauma, and how only by addressing those experiences (rather than repressing them) can we heal.
I’m glad, having finished, that I did have to read it – that I read it through.
In terms of this book as a teen read, I suppose it could be an even more difficult read, emotionally, for a younger version of myself, but I think I would have taken some good values out of it and possibly avoided some of my own unfortunate experiences, or perhaps learned at an earlier age how to deal with them.
After finishing this book, what really stands out to me is how protective Jaycee is of her daughters. They are strangely absent from the narrative. Yes, they are present, it can’t be ignored that while in captivity she gave birth to two girls, but outside of their infant years, they are not really described. Their personalities are not revealed. By the time Jaycee was found out and freed, her oldest daughter was older than Jaycee was when she was stolen! It seems likely that these girls, mother and daughters, grew up together and that of course they would have an extreme impact on Jaycee’s life. This seems like a MAJOR omission from the text, and I am certain it is purposeful.
It gives me an insane amount of respect for Jaycee as a mother.
The other thing which I took away from the text personally was Jaycee’s experience with therapy. Starting on page 149, when she begins discussing “the difference between supportive and enabling therapy” in Philip’s life, to when she works with horses and her daughters after their release, it becomes clear to me – and hopefully to other (especially younger) readers – that therapy is not all equal. My first experiences in college with therapy had so much to do with whether or not I “liked” my therapist enough to trust him/her to talk to, I never considered their therapeutic approaches and the various levels of effectiveness those different approaches might have with me until recently! My life is still changing daily as a result of that revelation, and I wish I could have made it sooner.
In her introduction, Jaycee Dugard states that one of the reasons for her writing this book is the “hop[e] that it will be of help to someone….facing a difficult situation of their own,” and at least in my experience, I think she hit the nail on the head.
I’ve told Sonja that she still doesn’t have to read the book, but that I liked it. It was worthwhile.
And…a note for my professor, Heidi. Everyone else can ignore it!
Heidi, I’m sorry this blog post is SO much longer than your suggested length. I know you have many to read! I had a lot of strong feelings about this book. Let me know if in future you would prefer for me to make an alternate, shorter blog post for our submissions to class, versus those I write for my personal blog (right now I am doing both as the same post). :)