REVIEW: Stolen by Lucy Christopher
Books published through the Chicken House imprint are a mixed bag for me. I fell in love with author Cornelia Funke, but didn’t really care for the Tunnels series. I don’t know what it is, but international authors sometimes do not gel with my reading pleasure. Picking up Stolen, I had minor fears that you would be one of those unfortunate international authors. The simplistic copper butterfly on a black background was tempting, and on opening the book to the silhouette of a snake on one page, another butterfly on the next, I was enraptured.
In an airport, ready to fly to Vietnam with her parents, Gemma is stolen. Everything appears okay. She’s just about to board her plane and leave. Until she meets Ty. His comfortable blue eyes and handsome exterior draw her in. Gemma sits down and shares coffee with him, reluctant to leave with her parents so soon. Something unnerves her, however, and before she knows it, she is drugged. Stolen.
Gemma isn’t lucid for a long time. When she wakes up completely, she’s tied to a bed. By Ty. In an endless wasteland; a desert. Definitely not Vietnam. With no cell phone or way to contact her family – or escape – Gemma has to try and survive with Ty. He says he won’t hurt her, but the fear is always there. Along with that eerie feeling that she had seen him somewhere before. But that’s impossible, right?
Stolen is the tale of a girl and her captor; of isolationism and a fear that grows into something indescribable.
A novel like Stolen is unique in it’s ability to be both horrifying, eye opening, and honest. There is nothing unbelievable about this book; nothing left to a simple plot device or character malfunction. Every word, paragraph, and page is cold and calculated like Ty himself. Many times throughout my reading, I can remember the feeling of my stomach contorting into knots; of fear trickling in as Gemma would try and escape, or think about her death.
Gemma herself is a heroine that is vivid and complex. Her strength and vitality are combined with parental issues and the need for a figure that outwardly shows caring in her life. She is the type of heroine we want to succeed in escaping. Screw the rest of the book. We want her out of his clutches by page one. Her dynamic with Ty, her captor, is also finely tuned. Ty is so sly that even the reader falls for him. The opening scene breeds distrust and contempt, but soon, as he seemingly shows unfaltering adoration and honesty towards Gemma, the reader and the protagonist are slowly seduced into feeling comfortable with him. Liking him. Maybe even romantically falling for him.
Of course, that’s only when he isn’t doing something clinically insane. With his own past problems and mental instability, Ty is a character that will befuddle yet interest the reader. Do we want Ty to go to jail, or do we want him to convince Gemma to stay with him and become one with the Australian outback? You make the reader fire question after question at themselves, never once making the message easy or even solvable.
A scene where Ty takes Gemma out to capture a camel (let it be noted I had no idea camels were in Australia) to use for an unknown purpose really stood out as being funny yet still showing your sense of drama:
You pulled the pole over your lap and out of your window. The noosed end was pointing at the camels. You were looking them over carefully. Sweat was pouring off of your face. It was pouring off mine, too, despite the breeze rushing past me.
“I’m going for the young female,” you shouted. “The one nearest to us. You OK to drive for a moment?”
You started to lean out of your window.
“What are you doing?”
“Take the Wheel!” you ordered.
You didn’t give me much choice. As soon as you shouted it you were gone, leaning dangerously out of the car, which started to bank toward the camels. If it kept going like this, your head would probably crash into the back end of one of them. I was tempted to let it.
The entire metaphor of the capture, bonding, and eventual release of the camel was well done, and paralleled Gemma’s own struggles flawlessly. The slow build of affections toward a pet and the eventual abandonment really did well for the end of the story, and made the emotions seem even bigger. Symbolism like that is usually lost on me, but your ability to weave it so well into the story made it easy to notice after some thought.
Writing Stolen as a letter from Gemma to Ty following their time together is what really made it a great novel. I had no problem getting into the story, and the particular feelings that come off from something as personal as that kind of letter made a great frame for the rest of the book. The style managed to be dark yet carried a level of hope, and reminded me of one of my favorite books, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, which also contains a love story that is by many standards confusing and creepy.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a novel so open and brutal in it’s realism of character and relationships. To the very end, where the reader still cannot comprehend if Gemma’s feelings for Ty are genuine, or if she suffers from Stockholm syndrome. It’s a puzzle I don’t think I’ll ever be able to solve, but that’s just the kind of feeling I want when I leave a book. The feeling of being able to think about it long after I’ve read the last sentence. You have written a novel that will resound with teenagers and adults a like, and shed light on the complexities behind isolationist relationships…and of being stolen. A
All the best,
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I had heard something about this book before that made me want to read it, and now your review is raising my interest even more. I’m sure it’s no light read but it sounds very intriguing.
It sounds a bit like John Fowles’ The Collector, which I loved, but in that book, the kidnapping victim never develops Stockholm Syndrome-like feelings for her captor.
@Janine: It’s not light by any means, but it’s very deceptive at being a heavy read. It’s one of those books that stays in your mind days after you’ve finished it.
@John: It does sound like that kind of book — certainly it’s not a subject matter that’s easy to dismiss.
BTW Jennie and I also loved How I Live Now, so your invocation of that book has me all the more interested in Stolen. I reviewed How I Live Now here.
Can I ask for a spoiler on Stolen — does Gemma ever gain freedom and return to her family?
Please post a several-line long spoiler warning ahead of your answer so readers who don’t want to be spoiled will be able to avoid reading it.
@Janine: How I Live Now was a really powerful read. It’s not the same as Stolen, but you’ll definitely like one if you like the other.
SPOILER WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU DO NOT LIKE SPOILERS. SPOILERS. SPOILERS.
Yes, she does.
SPOILERS OVER. SPOILERS OVER.
That part is what really ties in all of the thinking for the reader.
Thanks John. I’m glad to know.
You’ve got me interested but I think I own too many of these books already. Have you ever read Laura Wiess? Curious to know what you think of her.
@Keishon: No, I haven’t read anything by her. Personally, darker books for me are win/lose. Some are just powerful and totally worth the read…other ones just are too depressing. I find Stolen more powerful than depressing.
Oh, geez. John, you’ve made it so I have to read this one. What a great review. I’ve thought about picking it up but just haven’t been sure. Now I am. I adore HOW I LIVE NOW and I think I need to get STOLEN very soon.
I ordered a copy of Stolen. I’ll try to remember to let you know how I like it when I’ve read it.
I like insane characters. I’ll have to make a note to buy this book. I also loved How I live Now. It’s one of the few books that made me cry hard. I hope this one touches me as deep.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a lack of connection with translated literature didn’t depend on the qualities of the translation.
I had to read most of my early fantasy, sf and romance in German until my English was good enough to read in the original – and even very good translations don’t grasp all the subtext in the original.
Of course, that works whichever language is the original and whatever language has to be translated to – even very good translations by someone other than the author are inherently not quite the book as it was written.
The best of both worlds are authors like Sandra Schwab, who can write in both languages they speak fluently ^^.
Aside: I’ve thought that the lack of success for Japanese light novel sf in the US probably has to do with there not being a whole lot of extremely good translators around – as it seems that the structure of Japanese is so different, the books would have to be majorly rewritten.
@Estara: The Chicken House imprint publishes books from the UK and Australia – so no translation is needed. I just think that one can see the different styles, subtle as they are.
You make a good point with translation, though. I recently bought an English translated light-novel, Spice & Wolf, that I was thinking of reviewing on DA since it’ s just so unique. Translation unfortunately can’t give us everything…though I find the ongoing effort to come out with new translations of classics like Anna Karenina interesting and a little futile.
@John You’ll have to pity all us non-Americans, then, since the vast majority of YA and MG even in the UK is still American. If you can wade past the Babysitters Club, the Sweet Valley entire-life-story-by-now, the Animorphs, Tales of a Somethingth Grade Nothing, and pretty much everything else I read in my childhood, there is some good stuff lurking in the library (often pre-80s or post-00s, I find), but at the end of the day all you can do is shrug and learn to accept all those sidewalks, high schools, malls, and those darn pants and the asses in them.
I didn’t realise how different the grammar was until doing line edits recently, with “to”s becoming “with”s and “at”s becoming “to”s. Just tiny, tiny changes, ones you don’t even notice while reading, but I’ll bet they make a huge contribution to the feeling of ‘difference’.
John, I envy you. Your review makes this book sound so compelling and gripping, but reading it was like having my teeth pulled. The premise was ingenious, but the narrative and character development left me cold. A cold closer to apathy than an actual emotion. I did, however, love the camel scenes (again, ingenious).
I agree that this is a book that will stay with you long after you read it.
This book was a very powerful and emotional read. For me its one of those few books that i’ve ever read that stays with me for awhile. Its very rare that I find a book that I will re read, recommend to a friend, or that stays with me in my head for long after iv’e read it. I loved how the author was able to manipulate the readers emotions into feeling sorry for Ty and even liking him, even though we know what has has done is wrong. It strikes me how indecisive I am about Ty and what I think should happen to him. This novel was brutally honest and captivating. Its been a long time since i’ve read a novel that has captivated me as this one has