In “A Stolen Life,” Jaycee Dugard, who writes in the first person, has a voice that at first surprised me in its relative immaturity. She shows a lot of wisdom, but the voice frequently is that of an 11-year-old girl.
And then the light dawns: In many ways, the 30-year-old Dugard IS 11 years old.
If the name doesn’t ring a bell, Dugard is the person who was kidnapped while on her way to school in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., in 1991, and rescued 18 years later. In the interim she had been held in the backyard of a house in Antioch, Calif., where she was confined in a couple of shedlike structures and repeatedly sexually abused, giving birth in the shed to a daughter when she was just 14 years old, and again at the age of 17.
Dugard’s story has held a particular fascination for parents, but is familiar to anyone who follows the news. I had been both horrified by her story — her life was indeed stolen from her, and also from her mother and sister — and gratified that she had managed to survive. But it wasn’t until I read her book that I truly considered all of the ramifications of her case.
Yes, she had been brutally raped, but it was the daughters born of those rapes that both fueled her perseverance to survive her (and their) ordeal and discouraged her escape. Where, after all, could a 14-year-old with a baby turn? Would her family take her in? How could she support herself and her baby? What did she know about surviving in the world, not to mention surviving with a baby?
Then there’s the realization that, for 18 years, she had no freedom, made no decisions, had to ask permission for everything. How does one transition from such a situation to a normal life?
Memories of her mother’s love were an enduring source of strength for Dugard during her captivity, and their unification is a moving scene. Still, Dugard harbored doubts about whether her mother would accept her grandchildren, and even Dugard herself.
The book resolves those doubts. It also gives us a peek into the horrors of human nature and inspiration about its nobility.