Review: Stolen

Stolen by Lucy Christopher. Chicken House, an imprint of Scholastic. 2010. Review copy picked up at ALA. Printz Honor.

The Plot: Sixteen year old Gemma is kidnapped by Ty and brought to the isolated Australian desert.

The Good: You saw me before I saw you. In the airport, that day in August, you had that look in your eyes, as though you wanted something from me, as though you’d wanted something for a long time. No one had ever looked at me like that before, with that kind of intensity. It unsettled me, surprised me, I guess. Those blue, blue yes, icy blue, looking back at me as if I could warm them up.” So begins Stolen, Gemma’s letter to Ty (“you”), telling us what will happen over the course of the book. Ty’s obsession with a hint of history; Gemma not sure how to handle being the subject of such strong emotions; and an attraction to blue eyes with her own projections of what Ty may be thinking.

Stolen, told in first person, creates an unsettling tone of immediacy, of urgency, bringing the reader along with every tortured moment of Gemma’s captivity. It is not an easy journey, for either Gemma or the reader.

Christopher creates a sense of place that brings the reader right into the hotness, the dirt, the isolation of the Sandy Desert in Australia. Also conveyed is the beauty. Gemma herself begins to see the beauty in her surroundings.

Why a Printz Honor? Three things — writing, setting, characterization. Both Gemma and Ty are very real, in both their strengths and weaknesses.

Ty has kidnapped Gemma. I’ve read, and discussed, many things about Ty, and Ty and Gemma, about what Ty does and why. What follows is my interpretation, so there will be spoilers. If you don’t want spoilers, stop reading now. Part of what makes this book Award worthy is the discussions that will result. So let’s start!

Ty is a broken person. Over the course of Stolen, the reader observes Ty breaking Gemma, as surely as he breaks a camel: “Once she trusts me, and she’s accepted me, she’ll like it better this way. Camels work in herds, you know. She’ll feel safer once she’s got someone to follow, a leader. The she doesn’t have to worry about being scared anymore.” Ty’s words are about a camel but could easily be about Gemma. And this is where Ty is disturbed. Not because he kidnapped Gemma — of course, that is a monstrous act. But because he never sees Gemma as an individual apart from himself. From the time he first encounters Gemma at age ten, she is a fantasy, a person he projects his own needs and fears on, a mirror for him to see himself and save himself.

Except, of course, Gemma is not a mirror, a blank slate, a doll to be manipulated. She is a person with her own thoughts and needs, desires, at an age — sixteen — where she is trying to figuring out her own place in the world. At that moment and place in her time, in her emotional development, Ty takes her and tries to break her, to shape her into who he wants her to be. The heartbreak of Stolen is the degree to which he succeeds.

Ty sets up a situation where he, literally, is Gemma’s world. There is no one else, nothing else. The bed she sleeps in, the house she lives in, the clothes she wears, the water she drinks, all of this is built by or supplied by Ty. Who can withstand the constant assault of his words and beliefs? Who can hold out from beginning to think what he says isn’t sickness but truth?

Ty’s obsession is shown repeatedly by his words to Gemma, his belief that he knows all her thoughts and needs and desires, along with his desire to shape her to be who he wants her to be. “Give in, Gemma.” “I’ll never let you go.” “You’re going to like this.” “It’s better like this, just you and me. It’s the only way it could work.” “I’ve saved you from all that.” Ty believes that his need and love are all that should matter to Gemma:  “This land wants you here. I want you here. Don’t you care about that at all?”

What Ty never comprehends is Ty wanting Gemma doesn’t matter, no more so than my, say, wanting Robert Downey Jr. here in my room is something he should care about. That Ty is cute and hot and Gemma has some physical attraction may confuse her own feelings but it doesn’t change that Ty is about possession and owning. Not love. That Ty does not physically hurt her is immaterial (and almost a cop out, given that kidnappers do physically hurt their captives. Plus, he is the direct cause of all her injuries in Australia, from third degree sunburn to snake bite.)

As for love, his own emotional needs are reflected in the definition he gives Gemma: “People should love what needs be loving. That way they can save it.” Ty is all about that “should”– he has created his own world in the desert and so now believes he has the right to control all, including his designated companion to keep him from being alone, Gemma. Who needs loving? He thinks it is Gemma and his love will save her, but this is about Ty and what Ty needs. He needs love, he needs saving, so people — Gemma — should love him.

That’s not the way love works. Ty’s “love” is not love.

By the end, away from Ty, Gemma is trying to figure out her own thoughts about what happened. Hence her letter to Ty. Much like Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian woman held captive from ages 8 to 19, she doesn’t see Ty as a monster, she has some pity and compassion and can see some good. Gemma manages to have some balance, in that she realizes and wants “to make you [Ty] realize what you did wasn’t fair, wasn’t right.” She is even beginning to realize that Ty’s view of things is not “right” and need not be her view. Whether she can really escape him, whether she will remain, mentally, “stolen” from who she was before the abduction and who she was meant to be if Ty had not interfered, remains unknown.

Not everyone reads Ty the way I have. Some other ways of seeing Ty: Stacked; GalleySmith; Bookalicious

On the other hand, some share my viewpoint: Teen Reads (with the great line I almost want to steal: “But that is part of the challenge of the book: Ty, no matter how he looked or what he said, is a dangerous and abusive figure. Readers must be wary of falling prey to the deception of the predator.”)

Also, check out the Q&A with the author from the publisher’s website.