Once upon a time, I earned a Master's Degree in Literature and was a Professor of Literature and Composition. I had a wonderful time writing my Master's Thesis about Children's and Young Adult Literature, and I considered earning a Ph.D. so that I could continue to pursue the written word, including British, American, Latin American and other Global Literatures, Children's and Young Adult Literature, all types of genres and occasionally even poetry. But life takes you in unexpected directions, and so now I am working for a non-profit agency (you can read about that on my other blog, A Little Bit of Wonder). Although my job keeps me too busy to post as many book reviews as I would like, Recommended Reading is a place where I can continue to share my literary discoveries and knowledge as time allows.

Please note that I post reviews for books that I recommend reading, just like the blog title says. This means that I typically won't post a review for a book that I completely dislike. This isn't because I shy away from making negative comments, but rather because I don't want to waste your time or mine (I won't even bother to finish a book if it's not any good). For more on this, see the explanation of my Rating System.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Book Review: Stolen

In the opening to Lucy Christopher’s novel Stolen, sixteen-year-old Gemma is drugged and kidnapped from the airport in Bangkok – that should be a bang, right? I should be glued to the novel from the very start. But all I could think while handsome Ty bought poor Gemma a cup of coffee and added a vial of some unknown substance was, what is this girl thinking?? Hasn’t she heard of GHB?? I know it’s never the victim’s fault, but I have to admit that I had a hard time getting into the novel at the beginning because I was so preoccupied by this girl’s lack of good judgment. Someone should have taught her not to talk to strangers – and especially because she’s a female, she should have been educated not to let strangers near her drink (at a party or anywhere else). This novel was written recently (published in Australia in 2009), so by now everyone knows about the date rape drug. (Right?)

Both Cazzy @ The Cazzy Files and Adele @ Persnickety Snark wrote excellent reviews of Stolen and enthusiastically recommended this novel, so my expectations were pretty high. But between Gemma’s lack of intelligence and the style of narration, which consists of Gemma continually addressing her captor (“You did this, You said that”), I wasn’t all the impressed. At first.

When Gemma awakens from her drug-induced stupor, she finds herself deep in the Australian Outback. She is being held captive in the desert by Ty, a man who has apparently been stalking her for years. He believes Gemma to be, like him, stifled by the concrete jungle of the city. He is in love with the land, the same environment that Gemma sees as a giant reddish-brown expanse of… endless nothing. But Ty is not only in love with the land – he is in love with Gemma; he believes that with time, she will grow to be happily at home in the desert and love him in return.

If you phrase it all that way, it seems obvious that Ty is delusional. He’s taken Gemma away from her parents and her life in London against her will. He’s trapped her in a harsh environment that poses serious threats to her well-being over and over again. (This is the first kidnapping story that I’ve ever read/heard that involves sunstroke and near-death from thirst, near-death from a snake bite, near-death while capturing a camel…) How could he believe that she would just forget all that and consider him her handsome prince? How could he imagine that they would live happily ever after? He thinks their lives will be simple out there in the desert; he tells Gemma that he will keep her there for “forever.” Creepy, right? And clearly delusional.

But the novel doesn’t present Ty as delusional – he’s gentle with both Gemma and the animals that he keeps at his desert homestead, he’s handsome but vulnerable, he’s clearly been through some traumatic things in his childhood. This is where the novel gets interesting – and pretty soon I found myself completely absorbed. I might have had a hard time getting into it for the first fifty pages, but after that, it became the kind of novel that I wake up at 3 AM to finish reading (which I did). Both Cazzy and Adele pointed out in their reviews that the book is unsettling because the scenario should be cut and dried: kidnapper equals bad guy. But what makes Ty such an insidious, disturbing “bad guy” is that he doesn’t really seem that bad. He certainly seems lucid enough, not to mention artistic, caring and sensitive. Both Gemma and the reader sympathize more and more with kidnapper Ty as he cares for the injured Gemma, tells her stories about the stars and the land, teaches her about the plants and the animals, and shares his artwork with her. Thanks to Gemma’s heightened awareness of his sexuality and vulnerability, I even found myself wishing that she would fall in love with Ty – despite the fact that I knew it would be the undoing of Gemma. That was the most unsettling part of all for me – finding that I was a little bit attracted to Ty myself. No, he does not seem delusional – because he has sucked both me and Gemma into his delusion.

Christopher’s ability to psychologically confuse the reader is a testament to her powerful storytelling ability – as is her use of the desert landscape and its inhabitants to mirror Gemma’s traumatic experience and various emotions. The Australian Outback is not simply an exotic backdrop for the novel; it is a reflection of Gemma’s isolation and a part of Ty’s very being. Christopher’s descriptions of endless sand and beating sun are haunting, thought-provoking and integral to the story.

Everything about this novel is relentless, in fact – including Gemma herself. Although she seemed unintelligent to me in the beginning, it was refreshing to discover that our heroine is determined to escape. She’s a fighter – she kicks, she bites, she’s willing and able to use sharp objects and trudge across the desert with no oasis in sight. It’s as though her extreme circumstances have awakened the warrior that was inside an otherwise passive, average girl – something that we each hope to discover inside ourselves in a dangerous situation.

It is Gemma’s emotions that ultimately help make the novel so compelling, because even though the story itself is incredibly tense and dramatic, it’s also very far outside the realm of the average reader’s experience. Most of us have never and will never be drugged, kidnapped, held captive or find ourselves trapped out in the desert. But many of us have loved or will find ourselves loving someone that we know we shouldn’t. Even though we might find the plot of the story a little difficult to relate to directly, the emotions of the story hit closer to home than we’d like. Gemma’s conflicting determination to survive and confused love for her captor are likely to keep any reader from setting aside this novel. Get your hands on a copy ASAP.

This post participates in my own current Six Books in Six Weeks Challenge. I am reading six Aussie YA novels by the beginning of April. Want to join me?

1 comment:

  1. Awesome review! Here's mine if you don't mind: http://lorxiebookreviews.blogspot.com/2012/12/stolen-by-lucy-christopher.html

    Thanks and have a nice day! :)


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