I remember following the Elizabeth Smart story on the news back in 2002. It was kind of hard not to, considering it was all anyone was talking about on the news and in the media. A young teenage girl abducted from her bedroom, right out from under her younger sister who was sleeping next to her in the same bed. I, like many others I’m sure, was convinced that she was gone forever. I mean, how many kidnapping victims are usually found alive?
When she was found, I was elated. I didn’t know her or her family or have any ties to her whatsoever, but I saw her smiling face on my TV every day and watched her parents cry for her, and it felt like her homecoming was a win for the entire country. Almost immediately, everyone was dying to know what she had endured, how she survived, and how she would move on with her life after those horrific six months.
I watched bits and pieces of the trial, but not enough to really learn the details. When I saw that she wrote a book covering the entire ordeal, I knew I had to read it. I picked it up from the library on Saturday and finished it later that night. Considering the subject matter, it’s hard for me to say that the book was good, but it was. It was hard to read at times, but I also found myself distanced from it a lot – like I was reading fiction instead of this poor girl’s actual account of how she was sexually abused and tortured and manipulated.
However, there were a few things I didn’t care for.
(1) The book is written in an incredibly child-like tone, which I get because she’s not a writer and she was only 14 years old at the time of her abduction.
(2) There are an excessive amount of exclamation points. Like, to the point of being distracting.
(3) Some of the information is contradictory or lacking. She focuses a lot on her red pajamas in the beginning and makes a comment early on about the plans that Mitchell had for them and how she wouldn’t learn of this plan until later. That sounds like foreshadowing to me, yet the plan is never explained and the pajamas aren’t mentioned at all again until the very end when she is remembering what it was like on the first night’s climb up the mountain.
She also uses vague phrases like, “It was too awful to describe.” Well, you’re writing a book. Try. Try to describe it. She alludes to many things, but then never goes on to give any details or explanation. I know that maybe this is a coping mechanism, or has to do with her religious beliefs, but then don’t mention anything at all. Don’t tell your readers that the captors were discussing “something terrible” that you would have to do the next day, but then not tell us what it was.
She frequently explains that she never tried to get away because Mitchell threatened her and her family, saying that he had friends who would kill her family if she attempted to escape. She believed him and didn’t want to risk her family’s lives. Then, at the end of the book, she mentions in passing that there were two escape attempts that ended badly. When did these take place? What did she try to do? How far did she get? What happened afterward?
When the police finally confront her and realize who she is, she is asked by one officer if she is Elizabeth Smart. I remember reading in the news that she answered strangely – said something along the lines of, “if you say I am” or “thou sayest.” In the book, she says that she answered, “I am Elizabeth.”
(4) She claims that she has had absolutely no professional help to deal with any of this. None. No counseling, no medication, no therapy. She slept in her own bedroom her first night back at home, has gone camping since (which I would think would be a HUGE trigger for PTSD), and got married. I find it incredibly hard to believe that she is as well-adjusted as she says she is. I don’t mean this is a negative way towards her at all, it just seems like she hasn’t dealt with this traumatic experience. She says that she’s gone horseback riding a lot and that has helped. Everyone is different, but I don’t buy it.
I think that I, and a lot of other readers, were interested to know how this has affected her in her life. PTSD, trust issues, nightmares, etc? This had to cause some kind of problem in her dating/married life, no? She was sexually assaulted every day for six months, sometimes multiple times a day, and that hasn’t affected her? She was chained to a tree in the woods on a dirty, makeshift campsite. How could she possibly go camping with friends or family afterward without any kind of emotional or psychological response?
Overall, this book gives good insight into what she went through and how she survived day to day. If it’s true that she came out on the other side with zero side effects, then she is one super strong lady. Recommended if you were even a teensy bit interested in the case.