You saw me before I saw you. In the airport, that day in August, you had that look in your eyes, as though you wanted something from me, as though you’d wanted it for a long time. No one has ever looked at me like that before, with that kind of intensity. It unsettled me, surprised me, I guess. Those blue, blue eyes, icy blue, looking back at me as if I could warm them up. They’re pretty powerful, you know, those eyes, pretty beautiful, too (p 1).
Gemma is sixteen years old when she is approached, drugged and stolen from a Bangkok airport while on vacation with her parents. She is spirited away to the Australian outback by Ty, a handsome man nine years her senior.
Stolen is written in letter form by Gemma to Ty after her physical imprisonment is over. At the outset, Gemma is desperate to get away. Believing herself to be near some sort of civilization, she attempts to run away twice. Ty lets her because there is no place to go.
Her first attempt is on foot and short-lived. She climbs a tree and discovers:
There was nothing but sand and flatness and horizon. I used the branches to turn myself around, grazing my leg a little on the rock. But there were no buildings on the other side, no towns… not even a road. It looked the same on that side as it had looked near the house. Long, flat emptiness. I wanted to scream, probably the only reason I didn’t was because I was worried you would hear me. If I’d had a gun, I think I would have shot myself (p 66).
That night, she ends up bitterly cold and searching for a way through a fence Ty constructed. Only to be found and brought ‘home’ by Ty.
Ty then takes her on an outback expedition to catch a camel. He intends to use the camel’s natural immunity to snake venom to create an antibiotic, should they ever need one. All the while, Gemma hopes for rescue and remains alert for a chance to escape or signal help.
Her second attempt at escape involves the manual transition car Ty used to bring her to his house. Ty, thinking Gemma could not possibly drive it, surrenders the key, in hopes of convincing her that escape is futile. She fares better than he expected and gets away. But miles later, the car gets stuck, and Gemma proceeds on foot. As the heat and dehydration wear her down, and she is once again ‘rescued’ by Ty.
There is a changing point in the novel. It involves Ty’s artistic sensibilities, the vulnerability he exhibits (read: manipulation), and the gentle manner her treats Gemma with (when he’s not allowing her to be torn apart by the brutal environment). I like to think it also involves Gemma’s prolonged isolation with only Ty to converse with and the painful, weakening damage her body sustains during her abduction and her attempts to escape.
But Gemma’s attitude toward Ty changes. She begins to understand him, making it harder for her to hate him. She goes so far as to feel tenderly for him. But her captivity ends before anything changes in their physical relationship.
I believe LizB is absolutely right when she writes, “part of what makes this book Award worthy is the discussions that will result.” I’ve seen varied reviews (some linked to below) and none of them fully encompass how I felt about the book.
For example, the setting and language are beautiful, complimenting each other in sparsity and hidden depths.
Yet the characterization… While Gemma resonates with me, Ty does not. Ty is described by some as humane (because he doesn’t rape her – what an odd distinction) but he was nothing more than a monster to me, ever. That he is broken makes him no more pitiable than a monster like Voldemorte. His actions determine my empathy and I have none for him.
Some say the lack of physical abuse allowed the reader to develop Stockholm Syndrome along with Gemma. hum. I thought Ty was very physically abusive, from the moment he drugged her and tossed her into the trunk of his car to the times he let her wander off on an escape attempt. He bosses her around verbally, makes her paint him and enter his twisted art… all in stark contrast to the beauty he is attempting to capture. He is ugly.
He wore Gemma down physically so he could break her mind. That he didn’t use his fist or his penis to do it is irrelevant.
For example, even as he promises to release Gemma to civilization after 4 months should she choose to go, he forebodes, “I can never let you go (p 235).”
I can understand how Gemma transforms her feelings. She is trusting, impressionable and desolate. She is manipulated, mentally and physically. She was stalked and studied.
As a reader, I was removed from those feelings. Rather, I read in trembling anticipation, my breathing short and sharp. It was a painful, heart-breaking thing to watch Gemma succumb.