Author: Mary G Thompson
Publisher: GP Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
This book did an amazing job of taking us into the conflicted mind of a victim of abduction, a young girl who has spent six horrific years in captivity.
At the end of six years, she returns home, still unwilling to speak of what she has gone through, not because she has any misguided sympathy for her kidnapper, but because silence is the only way to ensure the safety of those who were unable to flee to safety with her.
Six years ago, Amy Macarthur and her cousin Dee Springfield were forced into a vehicle by an unidentified person. Amy was 10 and Dee 12. Amy’s disappearance breaks the family down. Her dad moves to Colorado, where he remarries, and her brother Jay forever resents Amy for the split.
When asked what happened during the 6 years she was away or where she was, Amy/Chelsea just won’t talk. It isn’t safe. It seems as if she is still in denial.
Slowly Amy reveals her memories to us, memories of the past, good memories, back when the family was together, refusing to talk about the last six years. While her family is patient with her, they wish she would talk, so they could all look for Dee. Dee’s mother, Hannah, is impatient with Amy’s refusal to talk, but her sister, Lee, seems to understand the trauma that Amy may still be suffering and is more patient with her.
Kyle, their kidnapper had dolls, chiefly, Chelsea, Stacie and Lora, among others. He kidnaps Amy and Dee to stand in as his human Chelsea and Stacie respectively. Failure to play along with this pretence results in cruelty, assault and the withholding of food.
Gradually, Dee disappears into insanity, losing herself as she is raped repeatedly. She gives birth to two girls, Lola and Barbie. Incapable of caring for them or for herself, it is Amy as Chelsea who mothers them, bathing and diapering them.
The story is written in the first person present tense point of view of Amy, making it more real and intimate. But Amy’s own sense of trauma makes things confusing for us.
I found Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee confusing initially but once I caught on to what was happening, I found it extremely disturbing and creepy. I understood that Amy and Dee were taken away, but who then were Chelsea and Stacie? Little by little, the story revealed itself.
Kyle was one devious and twisted character. As the horrors of what he put the two girls through were revealed, I felt a deep sense of pity for them, and was able to understand why Amy behaved the way she did. Even the bad decisions that she took began to seem logical, given her experiences.
In the beginning, the narrator comes to Amy’s house, pretending to be Amy, yet talking to herself as if she were Chelsea, a girl who has no right to come to Amy’s house. There’s a mystery surrounding this girl and it leaves us feeling lost.
It seems that Amy has come home, but we are not sure she is really Amy. In her self-talk, she addresses herself as Chelsea.
Their account while in captivity feels horrifying. She says, Taste means nothing when you’re hungry, after Kyle shows his cruelty through food.
I also felt for the characters of Amy’s parents, particularly her mom, and her brother, Jay, and Dee’s mom and sister. I was touched by how Amy’s mother chews her hurt and her anger with her food, swallowing it.
Amy was a complex character. For a long time, she withholds her memories from us, and we don’t know what to make of her. We see her as cruel, for having left Dee and returned to her family. She herself is plagued with guilt for having kept silent while her cousin was being raped by Kyle, and for having prayed that it wouldn’t be her next. What’s more, she loved Lola and Barbie who were born as a result of the rapes.
This is a story of conflicts.
Amy’s dad feels a sense of conflict between his earlier family and his newer one.
Amy herself feels conflicted between being Amy and Chelsea. She longs to be wholly Amy and live in the moment with the family that she has been restored to. But all along she cannot stop thinking of herself as Chelsea, knowing that Lola and Barbie are still there, in the clutches of Kyle.
Slowly Amy reveals the extent of the depravity and nightmare that Kyle was. How she learned to say things to appease Kyle because the truth didn’t set you free, it got you hurt.
We feel for the plight of Dee, raped repeatedly, raped a month after her baby was born.
The author builds the momentum well, and like Lee, we too are patient, afraid to push Amy, afraid of the truth. Amy’s narration brings in an element of indirectness to Dee’s situation, making it both remote and strikingly real at the same time.
This was a YA story that has appeal for older readers as well, and might be too disturbing for younger readers, because of the horrible experiences lived through by the main characters.
An intense story.
(I got an ARC through First To Read.)