In reading “A Stolen Life,” you find yourself not wanting to put it down, but wishing the entire time that you were reading a work of fiction written by a sick mind and not non-fiction.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Every word of Jaycee Dugard’s story is true, and every minute from the time she was kidnapped on her way to school at the age of 11 until she was rescued 18 years later makes you wonder how she kept her sanity to become the delightful human being she appears to be today.
Dugard tells her story with dignity and courage as she recounts everything from those early moments until the end, when she was finally freed.
The book begins with an 11-year-old going through a normal routine before school. Getting up on time, not wanting to upset her stepdad, wanting to wear a ring her mother gave her, to what to eat.
However, what she knew as routine quickly changed when kidnappers Philip and Nancy Garrido take her using a stun gun.
Through her reflections written throughout the book, it’s obvious that Dugard struggles to share certain details about what happened in that lonely backyard.
She describes the loneliness of a young girl forced into a shed with no way out. The sound the lock makes everyday as Philip leaves her lying on the floor with her fast-food meal for the day.
Then, she describes the dreadful moments of rape. She describes the first time where Phillip takes advantage of a naive girl whose only understanding of sex was to put two Barbie dolls on a bed together lying horizontally.
These memories not only tug at your heartstrings for that young girl’s innocence being stolen away, but they also make you angry. They also make you wonder how a girl could survive such deplorable conditions?
Dugard talks of having her first child at age 14. She recounts a growing belly, but not knowing what it really meant until Philip and Nancy tell her. She describes waking up alone with stomach pains as she goes into labor. Philip and Nancy helped with the delivery of her first and second children. However, they take away her right to be mom, making the children call Nancy mom, and requiring her to accept the role as Alyssa, the older sister.
Dugard’s love for her children is obvious as she recounts the 18 years of being held captive, but the parts in the book that really stand out are what happened to the many animals that came in and out of the home.
Dugard speaks fondly of animals, and sadly of the cats and a bird that her captors allowed her to have but would quickly take away, or let die, after she formed bonds with them.
For Dugard, these were not just kittens or cats that served as pets, they were her companions, and they were an escape from pure loneliness.
The book contains many journal entries from Dugard, with several only being about one of these pets and how its companionship was so important to her.
Eventually, Dugard’s prison seems to become easier. Her captors Philip and Nancy allow her to go outside, and eventually take trips outside the home with the family.
From the transition from the younger years of rape and bouts to going through Philip’s “runs” while he did drugs, Dugard’s life does seem to get easier as she gets older. But, with that ease becomes a reliance on her captors.
She relies on Philip to tell her how to act, what to say and how to behave in every situation.
This relationship is built because Philip and his wife become the only life Dugard knows. She speaks about a longing to see her real mother again, but recalls in the book that sometimes she couldn’t remember what she looked like.
When it came down to Dugard’s true identity being exposed, even that is heartbreaking. After many years of being told how to think, act and what to say, breaking free wasn’t as easy for Dugard as one might expect.
One message rings clear in Dugard’s story. If something doesn’t seem right with a neighbor, person or situation, it’s better to speak up and make sure, rather than keeping quiet and allowing bad things to happen to good people, and possibly, young children.
From parole officers to neighbors, no one questioned what was happening inside that home.
“A Stolen Life” is not easy to read, but it’s worth reading. Dugard is an inspiration because of her positive attitude, because she believes in her two children, and because she still believes in happy endings despite an 18-year ordeal where at times she felt anger and resentment toward police and neighbors for doing nothing, which made her feel like she was nobody.