A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

This came up in my Reading Between the Wines book club for the month of November (I know, I finished it way earlier than I normally finish book club books). And I think I might have mentioned this before (The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls), but rating memoirs and biographies is hard. How do you pass judgment on someone’s personal experiences? So when reviewing these books, which doesn’t happen often because biographies are sooo not my jam, I stick pretty religiously to the Goodreads scale of the star rating – what was my overall feeling about it – versus rating it based off of how it was written, etc. But overall, how did it make me feel?

The chapters of this book are generally split in to two parts: the first part where Jaycee tries to go back to what she was thinking at the time the events were happening, and the second part (labelled Reflections) where she adds commentary from her current perspective in life. The sentence structure and storytelling can be a little difficult to read and keep track of, but keep in mind that Jaycee was kidnapped at the age of 11, meaning her formal education ended there. This book was written only two years after she was discovered and returned her family. But it is helpful, because it puts you in to the mind of the 11 year old Jaycee Dugard who experienced these atrocities.

I applaud Jaycee for not holding back when it comes to describing the sexual assault she experienced at the hands of Phillip Garrido. Those scenes were not easy to read and even more terrible, I’m sure, for her to experience. Keep in mind that she didn’t just experience these scenes once, but multiple times between reliving them in her head, detailing her captivity to the police, family members, friends, etc. and then with writing this book. I can only hope that putting this book out in to the world was cathartic for her.

Aside from the obvious issues that Jaycee discusses, this book is filled with actual scans of a journal that she kept when she was younger while in captivity, photos of her from before her kidnapping and during her captivity, photos of her daughters taken during her captivity, typed journal entries from the latter end of her captivity, and her favorite family recipe that she missed while in captivity, which definitely serve to break up the heaviness of her experience.

Reading this made me a little sad because it was rather obvious that Jaycee felt the need to justify her inability to escape from the Garridos despite multiple chances to do so. For those who expressed similar thoughts, I’d just like to say that you have NO idea what you would do in similar circumstances, unless you’ve lived through them yourself. It’s very easy to judge someone from the comfort of your living room. We, the public, have no idea what Jaycee experienced in her daily life with the Garridos, despite this brief snapshot she provides us with. I could also tell that she felt the need to do this to satisfy the curiosity of the public regarding her kidnapping and subsequent return.

As far as my rating goes, I’ll give this one:

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I’ll justify my rating with the following: (1) Biographies are not part of my normal genre of reading and this was a book chosen by someone else in my book club, meaning I definitely would not have picked this up myself; and (2) this rating is again how I felt about the book, rather than Jaycee’s experience and I did like the book and the connection that it gave us to Jaycee.

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