A Stolen Life

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Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped in June 1991 when she was 11 years old. For more than 18 years, no one knew what happened to her, until 2009, when she was discovered living in the backyard of a convicted sex offender. By then, she was almost 30.

Two years after her reappearance, she released A Stolen Life, a memoir about her experience in captivity. At the time of its release, I was 18 and tried reading it, but found the content a little too graphic for me.  I was an avid fan of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, but realized that this account was very real and in no way fictional. Now, more than 5 years later, I decided to give it another go.

The book is written in the format of a journal, with each chapter documenting an experience. After each one, Dugard reflects on the section from her adult perspective. The interesting part about her writing style is the simplicity of it, containing many short sentences. This is due to the fact that she only had a fifth grade education, as she never completed school. However, she wrote it entirely herself with no co-writer, and didn’t hesitate to describe the details of what happened to her on a daily basis. She talks about giving birth to her two daughters as a teenager in captivity and raising them, and trying to maintain a positive attitude.

Although I in no way will ever be able to fully understand what she endured, I was continually awed by Jaycee Dugard’s incredible resilience and willingness to write about the details. As I read the book, on the subway to work, during lunch and on the bus, I found myself drawn into the story by her words and honesty.

I definitely recommend this memoir, as it tells an unbelievable story of someone who spent a lifetime as a captive, but found the strength to carry on. I hope to read the follow up, Freedom: My Book of Firsts, next.

The Defining Decade

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Truthfully, I haven’t read that many self-help books. There’s a whole market dedicated to them that seem to tell you the same thing: you can be healthy by doing this or that. The Defining Decade, though, is one I found different because of the fact that it is written by a licensed clinical psychologist. I first found out about it through an NPR interview the author gave.

Meg Jay, Ph.D., is a psychologist who has worked in Virginia and California. Several of her clients were twentysomethings who found themselves at a crossroads in their lives. This nonfiction book is a compilation of her experience with those clients (with name and life details changed, obviously) and how she worked with each of them through their issues. After awhile, she realized that there wasn’t a book that focused on the importance of your 20s, which, in her opinion, is when certain decisions are the most critical and can affect the rest of our lives. And so began the basis for the Defining Decade.

The book is split into three sections: love, work and the brain and the body. Each section features the various predicaments of Dr. Jay’s clients, interspersed with facts, history and stories that relate to the issue and how they can help one work through the problem. For example, in one account that describes one twentysomething having trouble finding a job, Dr. Jay talks about the importance of utilizing connections: contacting the alumni from your alma mater, or even an old high school classmate. What makes it more interesting is the psychological angle she puts on it, like why someone is likely to reach out to a person that they don’t know.

One of the major reasons I liked this book is because the accounts documented people like me: those who came from middle-class families, went to college and are trying to figure out what exactly to do with their lives. I found this a contrast from some books “written” by celebrities in which they recall their experiences and struggles, which I’ve found harder to relate to since they usually have plenty of money and no worry about paying rent.

I definitely recommend this book as a read on the reality of how our 20s can be.

First & Then

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I realize it’s been a month since my last post. I’ve been busy with work and family, but finally got the chance to read a novel. This one is written by Emma Mills, also known as Elmify on her YouTube channel.

First & Then is the story of Devon Tennyson, a senior in high school who has no plans for her future and prefers life in the status quo. But that changes when her younger cousin Foster comes to live with her family. A former only child, Devon finds herself learning important life lessons that come with having a new addition in her family, and it triggers her thoughts for her future, friends and how people’s lives are shaped by certain events.

Devon reminded me a lot of myself in high school. She doesn’t seem to belong to one particular clique, interacting with the popular girls, sports players, smart students and so on. I never considered myself part of any one group, and knew a lot of people through extracurricular activities.

I liked the message that family is family, no matter what. Despite Foster biologically being Devon’s cousin, he still considers her his sister, and she thinks of him as her brother. Mills chose to focus on the relationship between cousins, a nice change from the common sibling-to-sibling, parent-to-child, or stepfamily dynamics seen in a lot of other books.

I look forward to reading Emma’s other books.