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Strong Female Characters: Being Kidnapped

Updated on May 14, 2012

Being Kidnapped: Strong Female Characters


I am passionate about books and like to read a wide variety of authors and types of stories, but I sometimes get hooked on a theme or a storyline and seek several books along those lines before I move on to new storylines. Room by Eleanor Donoghue set me off on an odyssey of reading books about being trapped or kept against one’s will.

When I first heard a review of Donoghue’s Room, I was not sure I wanted to read the book. Then I read another review and another; I decided I must read the book for myself. Once I picked the book up, I could not put it down. I read almost breathlessly hoping against hope that Ma and Jack would escape, overpower Old Nick, kill him, or attract attention somehow so they could escape their prison. Ma impressed me with her composure and the way she teaches Jack even in the worst of circumstances. Ma’s strength comes from Jack, in many ways. Because of him, she creates their daily routines and keeps them occupied. I fear if she had been alone, she would have succumbed to the darkness of her prison. I found the story compelling, and I hoped for a solution that allowed Ma and Jack to flee and be far away from Old Nick’s clutches. Donoghue does an excellent job of keeping her readers involved in the story and of making the characters real. While some readers may object to five-year-old Jack as the narrator, I think Donoghue chose well. Jack is not a typical five year old; his mother has been his constant companion every minute and hour of every day. While he certainly cannot comprehend with an adult’s understanding, he tells the story in a believable fashion.

After reading Room, I decided to read Jacee Dugard’s A Stolen Life, the true story of a very young girl kidnapped and held for eighteen years. Because I knew Dugard’s story to be true, I found it hard to read and would stop and then return to the story. Dugard’s strength of character and of mind helped her through the horror of her kidnapping, the birth of two children, and the years of isolation from the world. I was impressed with Dugard’s ability to educate her children and herself through the use of the Internet and worksheets she found to use with the children. She imposed a routine, much like Ma does with Jack. Dugard found her freedom after Room was published, so the two stories are not connected except in the sense that both detail kidnappings of young women and their lives during and after the kidnapping. Dugard’s inner strength is certainly remarkable.

Following Dugard’s memoir, I chose Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. I have recommended this book to several friends and all have remarked on the surprising twists and turns the story takes. The heartbreak of Annie O’Sullivan’s kidnapping from a house she hoped to sell and her subsequent captivity tears at the readers’ heartstrings. The shocking twists in the story continue to surprise the readers. As the story begins, readers discover Annie is talking with her psychiatrist so we know she is safely out of her kidnapper’s hands, but the title gives us much to consider: Still Missing. Obviously, once the victim is safe again and away from the kidnapper, the trauma is not over. Stevens shows us the difficulties of returning to society and of the victim’s working to overcome the ordeal.

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson tells us of another kind of kidnapping. Christine has a loving husband who cares for her, telling her stories about her life and their life together every day. Her memories evaporate every night while she sleeps, so she has to relearn everything the next day. She keeps a journal and reads the journal to keep herself grounded and to help her remember her life. Slowly, though, other memories begin to flood her consciousness. She becomes fearful of sharing those returning memories with her loving husband, especially when she sees she has written, “Don’t trust Ben.” The suspense builds even as we see Ben tenderly tell her the stories over and over, even the painful one about their son’s death. What is the truth and will Christine discover why she has written “Don’t trust Ben”? The story is worth the read in order to find out.

Yet another kind of kidnapping occurs in Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante. Turn of Mind tells the story of Dr. Jennifer White, successful orthopedic surgeon, specializing in hand surgery. Her best friend has been murdered, but who is the killer? Surely not Dr. White herself since she and Amanda have shared much over the years. Dr. White is suffering from dementia; sometimes she knows exactly who she is and where she is, but other times, her mind betrays her, leaving her bewildered and uncertain. Throw into the mix Dr. White’s two adult children and the caretaker Dr. White hires when she learns of her diagnosis and we have a mystery and a story of a well-educated, discerning woman’s descent into the unknown.

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson, I chose Still Missing by Chevy Stevens, Jacee Dugard’s A Stolen Life, and Room by Eleanor Donoghue all feature strong women caught in circumstances not of their own making. In each book, the main characters seek ways to save themselves and move out of the prisons around them. Sometimes circumstances do not allow even the strongest person to break free, but these five stories are certainly compelling.

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