Book Review: A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
On January 10, 1991, eleven year old Jaycee Lee Dugard was abducted from her school bus stop by Phillip and Nancy Garrido with the aid of a stun-gun. Jaycee was locked up in a backyard compound and repeatedly raped and abused by Phillip in a bid to satisfy his pedophilia. Over the course of her 18 year captivity, Jaycee gave birth to two daughters in the compound. Eventually with her increasing age, the sexual assaults stopped, but she was still held captive. Finally, on August 26, 2009, Phillip brought Jaycee and her daughters with him to the parole office in an attempt to explain away why he was spotted in public with the two girls. Jaycee, who hadn’t been allowed to speak her name for 18 years, was able to write it down for the police. This is the memoir of her experience and gradual recovery from the captivity.
Jaycee wrote this memoir without the assistance of a ghost writer, something very uncommon in memoirs by victims of abduction. She states in the beginning that her way of remembering things is a bit off because of the trauma, but that her way of telling her story will provide a genuine experience for the reader to truly see how the abduction affected her. She is correct that the memoir is not set up in a traditional way, but this tends to make for stronger books when discussing something as painful as this. It reminds me a bit of the very non-traditional story-telling methods used in another memoir When Rabbit Howls. Eliminating the ghost writer and letting the victim speak grants us, the readers, the opportunity to truly connect with a survivor. I humbly thank Jaycee for her bravery in this.
Most of the chapters start with Jaycee remembering the events from the perspective of her younger self. This absolutely makes scenes such as her first molestation by Phillip incredibly haunting. She then ends each chapter with a reflection from her adult, free perspective on the past. This structure is unique, but it provides an interesting perspective, showing both Jaycee the victim and Jaycee the survivor. Toward the end of the book this structure is lost a bit as we suddenly are shown many pages from the journal Jaycee carefully kept in captivity, as well as talking in a more present manner about the therapy she’s been going through. Her therapist sounds truly remarkable. She uses horses to help the survivors deal with problems, which seems to work incredibly well for Jaycee who often only had animals around to talk to during her 18 year ordeal.
Although Jaycee does recount her abuse and manipulation at the hands of Phillip, that is not at all what stands out in this memoir. What comes across is what a strong, sensitive, caring woman Jaycee is. She is not lost in woe is me. She does not even think she has it the worst of anyone in the world. The one thing she repeatedly states she’s learned is that she was not assertive enough as a little girl, and that personality trait backfired on her repeatedly throughout the ordeal. She states that she sees this as the reason abuse of all kinds are able to go on, because people don’t speak up.
There are moments in which all of us need to have a backbone and feel that we have the right to say no to adults if we believe they are doing the wrong thing. You must find your voice and not be afraid to speak up. (page 143)
This message of “speak up” is stated repeatedly throughout the book and leaves the reader feeling empowered rather than downtrodden at such a tale. If Jaycee could live through such a situation and come out of it stronger and as an advocate for victims and survivors of abuse to speak up, how can any of us do any less?
I recommend this book to those who enjoy memoirs and survival stories and can handle scenes of a disturbing nature.
4 out of 5 stars