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What do you think of A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard? Would you recommend the book to others? How did it compare to your expectations? What do you like about the book? What if anything did you not like? What parts of Dugard's story upset you the most? Are there any quotes or excerpts of the book that you particularly appreciate or enjoy? If so, please post them.
I like the introduction to this book. I appreciate that she expresses a sort of on thankful, optimistic, perseverance-through-adversity hopefulness in this chapter rather than waiting until the end of the book and her story to wrap things up in a hopeful way as I bet most authors would.
For some reason, I particularly find these lines from chapter 9 noteworthy:
Jaycee Dugard wrote:In my heart, I do not hate Phillip. I don't believe in hate. To me it wastes too much time. People who hate waste so much of their life hating that they miss out on all the other stuff out here. I do not choose to live my life that way. What is done is done I'm looking to the future. For the first time in a long time I get to look to the future instead of just the present. I have lived one day to the next never daring to look to the next. I never knew what was going to happen. If my heart was filled up with what ifs and regrets then what else would it have room for?
I guess that part, and others like it, gets to me simply because of the context, by which I mean the horrors of her life that unfortunately could be conducive to a hateful attitude. Her positivity in that sense reminds me in some ways of Anne Frank's writings. What do you think? Do you consider Dugard to be incredibly positive considering her circumstances?
Needless to say, the book is very disturbing. I think the story is even more chilling for me in the relatively dry and matter-of-fact tone she generally has while telling it. In fiction and even in the dramatized retelling of true stories such as in the case of much historical fiction and shows like Dateline, I think the tendency is to dramatize the story to the point it becomes surreal. But with the narrator's telling of the story in a way that does not feel exaggerated at all and knowing it is true lets the reality of it set in.
I don't think I have ever heard such a detailed account of a real-life first-hand rape. Frankly, it is just so very disturbing. Especially when considering how young she was--just 11 I think--when it all began. It's just horrific to me.
While the psychological issues of victims attached to or dependent on their captors has become common knowledge, the detailed account of her long stay with these captors and her various mind-states told first-hand throughout is completely beyond some single, general psychological label or theory. I think there is quite a lot of interesting, complicated psychology to this story that cannot be quickly summed up but is best taken in holistically by reading it. Maybe I'm not making much sense; does anyone else feel similarly or am I off-base here?
I am intrigued and disturbed by the extent to which during her captivity she genuinely wanted to please her captors in--as I see it--the way a young child attempts to get their parents approval. It was not simply out of fear of being punished, but she genuinely seemed to care about their feelings and want them to like her. What do you all make of this?
Here is something else that stuck out to me. I think it was in the chapter Cats and I think it was a verbatim reading from a journal she kept at the time. She said something to herself while in captivity along the lines of, I do not know why I am so unhappy. I know I should be happy and thankful for all I have. That's not it exactly but that's the gist of it. Basically, she feels guilty for not feeling thankful and happy for what she has in her life. I was a little shocked reading that, even knowing as she had explained earlier about the way Phillip manipulated her and made her afraid of the world and constantly told her that it was dangerous 'out there' and that most others had it much worse. I agree there is something wise in being thankful for what good things one does have in life rather than unhappy about what one doesn't, especially considering for instance how many starving children and homeless people there are. But feeling thankful and optimistic despite one's problems is one thing; feeling guilty about NOT feeling happy and thankful is something else, especially in her personal incredibly harsh situation. Maybe I'm off-base in thinking her feelings of guilt were so wrong, or maybe it is a testament to how successfully her captors had manipulated her. What do you think?
I'm surprised how good of a mother she seemed to be despite not only the young age at which she gave birth but the awful conditions of her life and her childhood. I assume most people who undergo very traumatic events in childhood develop severe psychological and developmental problems that make them unfit to be parents. However, frequently in the story even especially while still in captivity she is talking about her feeling of responsibility to her kids. One might argue that her kids would have been better off if she tried harder (or maybe at all) to escape. That may be true, but on the other hand more than once she explains how one reason she does not want to leave is for her kids sake. Wrong or right (I think wrong), she believed her kids were better off if she stayed there with them rather than if she tried to escape in some way.
When Phillip takes her and the kids to his parole office, she tries to lie to protect Phillip and into keeping her kids, but she could have easily told the parole officers who she is. They even threatened to fingerprint her and she expressed such worry about that because she did not want them to find out who she was. I am so struck by how she so wanted to protect her captors. Of course this is not the only possible way she could have gotten out of the situation, and luckily it still lead to the truth coming out and her captor's arrest. What did you think of this situation?
Speaking of escape, I was also shocked to learn while reading the book that Phillip was on parole when he abducted her and while kept her all that time. In her journal entries and her first-person memories I do not recall her very often expressing too much surprise or disappointment in the failure of a parolee not ever being caught in this, although she does address it briefly on occasion in that way. However, she does get into it in her 'reflections' and after the reunification, expressing feelings like mine of extreme disappointment in the law enforcement and justice system in enabling Phillip to commit these awful crimes. How do you feel about this?
Incidentally, some of her descriptions of the media in their frenzy over her seem as condemning as her condemnations of the government's agencies failures to rescue her earlier. At one point I remember her comparing the media trying to get at even a hint of a story to a specific rodent or insect of some sort desperately trying to get at some food.
After reading through all that sad horror, I was quite relieved to be able to enjoy the parts of the story as she reunites with her family and breaks out of her captivity not only physically but mentally as well.
Anyway, again I am brought to respecting her as a mother. I am reminded most of all of when she brings her daughters to school for the first day and is with all the other parents in the school library feeling nervous about being so young. Even I forget while reading something how young she was when she became pregnant--14. Becoming pregnant at 14 is in itself quite the hardship. I think she has done very well at dealing with it in the most positive of ways. I don't feel even the slightest resentment in her writing for becoming a mother, and I love feeling in her writing her genuine deep care for her children.
I also am impressed by her writing ability considering she is not famous for being a great writer but famous unfortunately for being a victim with a story people want to hear.
Anyway, I do not want to go on and on for too long. I want to here from some of you about your thoughts on the book and Dugard's life story.
"That virtue we appreciate is as much ours as another's. We see so much only as we possess." - Henry David Thoreau
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I also enjoyed the insights she included at the end of many chapters. After writing about certain experiences and situations as the person going through them, she was then able to look at them in hindsight almost from a 3rd party's point of view and add insight to what was happening or what she feels she should have felt in that specific moment.
I was thankful that her story wasn't over-dramatized like it would have been in a fiction novel, especially in the chapter titled "The First Time." I think she struck the perfect balance of providing detail and painting a picture of what it was like without being overly horrifying. Not that the situation wasn't horrifying, but the way she wrote it was almost emotionless, making it easier to read. I'm not sure if that makes sense or not...
As far as her loyalty to her captors, I believe that it started with Phillip's threat to sell her to someone else. That put a fear in her heart that didn't wear away after the shock of being kidnapped wore off. I think that the first weeks really set the tone for her relationship with Phillip. As she said, she relied on him for food, shelter, bathroom breaks, everything. That would be a hard feeling to shake off in that situation. By the time his wife entered the picture, Phillip was already the most important thing in her life besides survival so it was only natural that she came to seek Nancy's approval and affection as well.
Somebody mentioned what a great mother she was for her age, but I think you must take the situation into account. Most 14 year old mothers become mothers as a result of rebellion, too much partying, etc. Jaycee never had a chance to do any of this. Besides her cats and her captors, she had no life. I think in a way, her kids saved her. I think she would have gotten more desperate if more time had gone on, possibly suicidal. But her girls gave her something to live for and look forward to. They were a beacon of hope for the future.
I have many more thoughts on this book but it's time for me to go to work! I will try to remember to continue later!
-- 18 Apr 2012, 04:52 --
Jeff wrote:I suggested this book for the book club at a local library. Glad to find this. I haven't read the whole thread, or even the first entry, but I do like what I've seen so far. I am skeptical about the efficacy of online discussion though.