A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

November 1, 2011

Summary (from the publisher): When Jaycee Dugard was eleven years old, she was abducted from a school bus stop within sight of her home in South Lake Tahoe, California. She was missing for more than eighteen years, held captive by Phillip Craig and Nancy Garrido, and gave birth to two daughters during her imprisonment. On August 26, 2009, Garrido showed up for a meeting with his parole officer; he brought Jaycee, her daughters, and his wife Nancy with him. Their unusual behavior raised suspicions and an investigation revealed the tent behind the Garridos’ home where Jaycee had been living for nearly two decades.

A Stolen Life was written by Jaycee herself and covers the period from the time of her abduction in 1991 up until the present. In her stark, compelling narrative, she opens up about what she experienced—and offers an extraordinary account of courage and resilience.

Note: This kind of book doesn’t really lend itself to my usual Like/Dislike format. Instead, I’ll just write about my overall impressions.

Reaction: I was simply blown away by this book. I’d heard of Jaycee Dugard’s amazing story, of course, but I hadn’t seen any interviews, so I wasn’t sure of where the young woman’s mind was at with regard to what happened to her. Amazingly, she seems to be doing much better than I ever would have expected. She has no room in her heart for hate and won’t waste the rest of her life letting Phillip Garrido continue to control her.

Jaycee was kidnapped in 1991 as an 11-year-old while walking to the school bus stop. Garrido, a convicted sex offender, took her for one reason only: to be his sex slave. He began by making Jaycee touch him that very first day, and then raped her a few days later. The brutal rapes continued for years and years, and resulted in Jaycee having her first child at 14, and her second at 17.

I just cannot even begin to imagine what it would have been like to be locked in a tiny room all day with your rapist being your only source of human contact. At 11 years old, Jaycee had no idea what was going on, so she naturally believed everything that Garrido told her. The mind control and manipulation was every bit as despicable as the sexual abuse, and is the main reason Jaycee never tried to escape during her 18 years in captivity. From reading her firsthand account of what was going on, I can’t say I blame her. She was 11, for god’s sake. She grew to depend on Garrido, and to a lesser extent on wife Nancy, for EVERYTHING. She didn’t know where she was or what was waiting for her outside the “backyard.” Despite the rapes, she at least felt safe at the Garrido place — and this became more important than anything else after her girls were born.

It was heart-wrenching to read Jaycee’s journal pages and learn how she worried so much because her mother’s face was fading from memory. She agonized over the pain her mother must have been going through and wondered if her mother thought she was dead. Again, I just can’t imagine having to wrestle with those kinds of thoughts.

One thing that helped Jaycee cope was having a pet. She actually had several cats early on, but Garrido would always take them away, saying he didn’t like the urine smell in the rape room because it took him out of his fantasies or whatever. My god. Garrido told Jaycee that he always gave the cats to his aunt, who loved them, but later on Nancy let on that maybe he was torturing them or something. Seriously, this man had ZERO redeeming qualities at all.

Jaycee’s rescue was poignant, mostly because even then, at age 29, she was so much under Phillip’s control that she couldn’t bring herself to tell police officers right away who she was. She tried to lie and cover for Garrido even then. And she couldn’t say her name even when it was safe to do so. The only way the cops got an inkling as to her identity was when she wrote it down on a piece of paper. Wow.

I thought I would read this book and cry a lot, or maybe not even be able to get through it at all. But that wasn’t the case. Jaycee’s strength and dignity come through loud and clear on every page, and made me realize that she is not someone to be pitied. Rather, she is someone to be admired because of her sheer resilience and her survival skills.

I’ve read other reviews where people have complained about how much Jaycee talks about her cats or how there’s a lack of hatred and ranting towards the Garridos. But those points didn’t bother me at all. The cats were Jaycee’s only source of love and companionship, so of course they took on special meaning for her. Plus, she doesn’t remember every little thing that happened to her. Her mind has suppressed a lot, which is a normal coping mechanism for those circumstances. And as stated above, she refuses to waste time hating the Garridos, so I’m not sure what would be accomplished by a rant.

Fortunately, Jaycee’s therapy seems to have put her in a good place. She’ll continue to get help, and she’ll continue to thrive. Of that, I have no doubt.

Rating:

Although this wasn’t a perfect book, I wouldn’t feel right giving it any less than 5 stars out of 5. I finished it in less than 24 hours because the story was so gripping and Jaycee told it in such a straightforward manner. This was a very engrossing read.

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