A Stolen Life, A Banned Book
There are just a couple of more days of Banned Books Week left, and there are so many things I wanted to say that I have not written about yet!
So far, I have blogged about Judy Blume and Mark Twain, and their well-known, classic tomes. Today, I would like to talk about a much lesser known, more modern book that I was astonished to learn had been banned/ challenged. I’ve read this book at least a half-dozen times and I had no clue this was the case!
The book is called A Stolen Life. It is a heart-wrenching memoir penned by Jaycee Dugard. If you’re of a certain age, you might think that the name rings a bell. Jaycee made headlines in June of 1991, when the eleven-year-old was kidnapped on her way to her school bus stop in Arcadia, California. News of her abduction made nationwide headlines. A reward was offered for her safe return, but to no avail. For the next eighteen years, Jaycee was kept as a prisoner and sex slave by Phillip Garrido and his wife Nancy.
When I wake, I am alone in a strange place. I wonder how much time has passed. I woke up crying, which is strange, because I’ve never had a dream scare me so much that I’ve woken up crying before. I realize that my nightmare is real. Why is this happening? My body feels tight and it hurts. My mind wants to leave and be somewhere else. I struggle to get into a sitting position, but the handcuffs make it difficult.
For the first month of her captivity, Jaycee was kept naked and in handcuffs in a small room, with just a bucket to relieve herself. She cried herself to sleep night after night. As time went by, she was allowed more freedom and privileges. She was moved to a larger room, with a mattress to sleep on. She was given a small TV to watch. On a couple of occasions, Jaycee was presented with kittens to keep her company, but just when she got attached to the animals, Garrido took them away from her. In addition to the frequent rapes and perverted sexual abuse she endured, Jaycee witnessed Phillip’s drug binges, which make his behavior worse. She also details his manic rants about the voices he heard in the walls, telling him what to do, and ramblings about his far-fetched religious beliefs (he believed he was chosen servant of God).
Eventually (and inevitably), Jaycee became pregnant. She gave birth to two daughters while a prisoner of the Garridos. She was made to tell them she was their older sister. Also, she was not allowed to speak her real name out loud, or even write it down in the journals she kept. She went by “Allissa” during this time. Years into her captivity, Jaycee was finally allowed to go outdoors with her daughters, but only in the backyard, and only after Garrido built an eight-foot-fence around the property.
I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but obviously, Jaycee and her girls were rescued, or else this book would not exist. It is remarkable that the adult Jaycee was able to adapt to her newfound freedom and the outside world so well… no mental breakdowns, no turning to drugs or alcohol, no tacky reality show, etc. It is obvious from the journal entries that she kept as a frightened young girl, that she never gave up hope that she would someday get out of her awful situation.
I learned that the reason this book is so widely banned, is because of explicit sexual content, offensive language, and drugs/ alcohol use. The book is deemed “unsuited for age group.” What?!?!? Does somebody think that because Jaycee was eleven years old when she was taken, that it’s being marketed to pre-teens? That’s insane! Yes, the author does describe in vivid, horrifying detail the abuse she suffered, in particular, the very first time Garrido raped her. It’s very hard to read, because it’s so graphic and so very heartbreaking. You’ll probably cry. You might have to put the book down and come back to it later. It’s very powerful stuff. Once you get past that, and step back a little bit, you can see how this book might be used as a healing tool for survivors of rape, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and/ or abduction to come to terms with what happened to them, and to heal their emotional wounds.
As far as the question of: should kids be allowed to read this book? I believe that moms owe it to their tween and teen daughter to read it together. If Jaycee could be plucked off the street in a seemingly safe neighborhood in 1991, just imagine how much more danger there is today, with the presence of the internet, social media, and online predators who masquerade as other kids. This book starts out as a worse case scenario, but the story ends in triumph. Not quite “Happily Ever After,” but still, a happy ending. Jaycee Dugard is a true survivor, in every sense of the word.
A Stolen Life is one of my all-time favorite books. I hope you’ll add it to your reading list.