In 1991 Jaycee was kidnapped from a bus stop next to her home. For eighteen years Jaycee was held captive in a backyard where she was raped and tortured before finally being discovered. Jaycee not only missed out on her childhood, but in that time period had two daughters of her own. After her discovery and subsequent release in 2009 Dugard went on to write two memoirs: A Stolen Life outlines her experiences in captivity and Freedom: My Book of Firsts discusses her life after she is released from the backyard.
I listened to the second memoir Freedom on a road trip to New Orleans with my mom and grandmother this past week. At thirteen hours one way, the book was the perfect way for us all to pass the miles together. My mom was the person who first introduced me to audiobooks when I was a girl, and I have many fond memories of listening to them in the car with her as we drove around town (this was pre-CD where the books were all on numbered cassettes that needed to be flipped over at the end of the track).
In the book I admired Jaycee for her strength: I cannot even fathom the events she was forced to live through. The audiobook is narrated byDugard, and it is powerful hearing the book in the author’s own voice, infused with all her feeling and personality. The memoir details Dugard’s life of firsts: her first trip to another country, her first puppy, her first time driving. Being kidnapped so young, Dugard missed out on a lot of things that most of us take for granted, so her release was a sometimes overwhelming prospect.
Keeping all that in perspective, I am sorry to say that I simply did not like the book. Dugard’s writing was shallow and repetitive. Through her stories she had a habit of repeating the same words over and over so that rather than flowing the sentences stalled awkwardly. There are a lot of exclamation marks and words like “tummy.” Most of her stories seemed surface deep like a 1960s sitcom: her first Zumba class, or her first speeding ticket *cue the laugh track*.
Perhaps I was expecting something more empowering and there were parts in there that certainly felt they got to the truly authentic Jaycee, especially at the end, but they were simply overwhelmed by the mundane that was the rest of the book. Rather than feeling like I was getting her take on these firsts it was more like reading a recap in a blog post.
“This got me thinking of how animals define beauty versus us humans and how drastically different these opinions are. Animals don’t see beauty or judge us based on it. If a cat is comfortable with you and trusts you, it does not care what you look like. You could have a missing eye or two missing eyes or a freakish pimple on your face, and the horse you are riding or brushing will not care one bit. Animals teach us the meaning of beautiful every day. Do you take the time to listen?”
Understanding that Dugard’s schooling was cut short so that she did not enjoy the benefit of a secondary education, I can understand why Freedom hearkens back to my own fumbled attempts at writing in middle school. However, I wish that her editor or a close friend might have given her more guidance so that while the heart her stories and presence were still felt, the word were more eloquent. There was a lot of promise with this book: it simply fell short on the delivery.