Never get into bed thinking you’ll read "just another page or two" of a psychological thriller, especially when you’re within a hundred pages of the end. Here is the reason I’m a bit bleary-eyed this morning…
…and I’m not sorry. Not one bit. Lucy Christopher’s YA novel STOLEN is just magnificent.
16-year-old Gemma is kidnapped from the Bangkok airport when a handsome stranger (but he looks familiar…he is a stranger, right?) buys her coffee, drugs it, and hurries her away from the gate where her parents are waiting for her for a family trip to Vietnam. She finds herself waking up hours later in a landscape so harsh and stark it might as well be the moon. Her captor, Ty, is a young man with a haunted past of his own. He promises he doesn’t intend to hurt her physically but says that he needs her, that he always has, and holds her captive in a complex of buildings in the Australian outback that seem to have been built for the purpose of keeping her here.
The desert and the animals and plants that have adapted to survive its rugged conditions mirror the antagonist in the way they both hold Gemma captive and eventually enthrall her. Like Ty himself, the desert fascinates Gemma, and she finds herself acclimating and becoming drawn to its mix of danger and beauty. So how, in the midst of those hopeless conditions and her own psychological changes, can she ever hope to find her way home to London again?
STOLEN is written in second person, as a letter from Gemma to her captor in a voice that is believable and raw without ever feeling forced. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was so beautiful and so creepy all at once. Even though the kidnapper in this book had done something I’d consider unforgivable, even though he drugged a teenager and stole her away from her parents, I couldn’t hate him or even think of him as evil. And perhaps that’s what made the book the most chilling of all. It’s a great, great read.
Here’s my teacher-note – This book will have wide appeal to older middle school and high school students, and it’ll be a great literature circles choice – so much to talk about. While I’m dying to share it, I’m going to wait just a bit before I put it out for my 7th graders, since some of the language & situations are intense and it’s a book I’ll feel more comfortable recommending to individual kids after I’ve had longer to get to know them and their reading tastes. And one more teaching thought…for a high school English class, this would be amazing paired with Ann Patchett’s BEL CANTO.