A “Stolen” Emotion: Love or Stockholm?


Madison Crumpton

Artwork by Brashier student Brendon Maness depicting the metaphorical similarity between Gemma and the camel in “Stolen” (Photo courtesy of Madison Crumpton).

Stolen was published by the author Lucy Christopher in 2009. It is a realistic-fiction book written in the form of letters from a hostage to her captor. One of the main reasons this book is so delightful and hard to stop reading is because the letters never really stop. There are no chapters or definite endings. The letters continue from “day-to-day”, making the book very hard to put down. I was immediately drawn to Stolen, with a simplistic cover and an intriguing description, I had planned on reading this book first. It was one of the many books I had received for Christmas. 

Christopher jumps right into the story, opening with Gemma, the main character, at the airport noticing Ty, her kidnapper. “You saw me before I saw you.” Talk about a creepy beginning. Gemma notices that this – what seems at the time – a very cute guy checking her out. She also realizes that he has been with her the entire flight from London to Bangkok. 

In the airport coffee shop, Ty pays for her drink, a very sweet and flirty gesture but with a malicious intent. She sat down as he put “sugar” into her drink; sweet Ty had drugged unknowing Gemma. Through conversation and spiked drinks, Gemma really takes note of how much older Ty is and how rugged his physical features are. After an argument with her parents, a distraction in the form of a cute guy and coffee was all Gemma could have asked for. “The deep blue of your eyes had secrets. I wanted them.” 

“‘So what’s it like anyway? Australia?’ You smiled then, and your whole face changed with it. It kind of lit up, like there were sunbeams coming from inside you. ‘You’ll find out,’ you said.” The book is all downhill from there. Ty takes her from the airport, changes her appearance, and feeds her chocolate to keep her drugged. The two of them finally made it to a car, where Ty takes her to where he plans on keeping Gemma forever. When Gemma wakes up in a bed, she immediately checks for her appendages, clothes, and for any pain. 

After a couple days of sleeping off the effects of the drugs, she gets up to explore. She finds that she is in a house, and she eventually makes it outside. She finds that she is in a never-ending desert in the literal middle-of-nowhere. “I could see why you hadn’t locked the doors, why you hadn’t tied me up. There was nothing and no one out here. Only us.” Gemma decides to make a run for it, which is the first of many attempts to escape the vast desert of what she finds out is Australia. Ty captures her and takes her back to the house where he locks her in the bathroom. She goes to the extremes, even cutting her wrists in a pitiful attempt to kill herself. 

Gemma runs away for a second time. After her recovery, Ty tells the story of how he met Gemma and why he chose her. Ty is sincere when he tells her that he never took her with the intent of harm. He tries to reassure her of this repeatedly throughout the book. Out of a warped sense of genuineness, Ty took her to give her freedom from the city, her parents, and from the harsh reality of life.  

He met her when she was little in a park, when he was just a homeless stranger, and her kindness encouraged him to move forward with his life. He took a job in the park and watched her grow up as she continued to visit there. As she reached teenage years, he took on a different type of passion for her. He saved her from a guy who planned on hurting her, saw her life struggles, and wanted better for Gemma. He continues by telling her his life story, a traumatic childhood without parents, real education, or any possible form of love.  

After a few days of side adventures, Ty brings up the idea of finding a camel. A camel for milk, labor, and eventually meat. Once they catch the animal, Gemma watches Ty force the camel into doing what he wants. This is a major symbol in the book. Gemma realizes this camel is a metaphor. She is like the camel, trapped with nowhere to go, slowly conforming to the ways of her captor. “‘Camels just make a lot of fuss.’ You ran your hand up her neck, and spoke gently to her once more. Her ear flicked back to listen to you. ‘As soon as she understands what we want, she’ll do it. Camels are like that.’ I wondered if you thought the same thing about me.” 

One night after an argument with Gemma, Ty has a nightmare. She goes to comfort his screaming out of compassion and lets him cry into her. This is one of the first signs of Stockholm syndrome. 

We see the presence of Stockholm again just a few “letters” later after Ty and Gemma slept in the sand in each other’s embrace. “My stomach twisted, though for the first time it wasn’t from fear… What I really wanted was to have your hard, hot arms around me again. I craved your warmth…My eyes roamed across the land, looking for the heat of a human. One particular human.” Right after this she goes looking for Ty when she wakes up without him beside her. Ty is looking for a snake, and of course, Gemma was bitten. 

After Ty’s remedies and medicine doesn’t work, they decide to go to a nearby mine excavation that has on-site doctors. Gemma rides on the camel until they can find the car, which is stuck in the sand from Gemma’s most recently failed escape. This is when the camel symbolism really comes into play. Gemma gets in the car but Ty cannot bring the camel along. He unties her and tells her to go away, as they drive off the camel chases them in agony. “Eventually, you pulled away. She stumbled in the sand, trying to keep up, then she slowed to a trot, getting farther and farther behind. She tipped her head back and moaned as we went… ‘Good-bye,’ I whispered.” 

Gemma is eventually flown to an Australian hospital, and Ty is placed into custody to be questioned. Gemma’s parents arrive, doctors, psychiatrists, and the like begin to question her and Ty’s relationship, poking around at what could possibly be Stockholm syndrome. 

Since Gemma won’t talk enough for anyone to help her, she is encouraged to write down her feelings. She ends up typing this “book”, which is her perspective in letters to Ty, her captor. She finishes her letters the day before she has to testify in court, she decides to tell both the good and bad parts of Ty during the trial. She knows he will be sentenced but hopes to lighten it. Gemma knows that Ty will heal over time, and that when he is out of prison he will go back to Australia and live life as he once had.

“You told me once of the dead plants that lie dormant through the drought, that wait, half-dead, deep in the earth. The plants that wait for the rain. You said they’d wait for years, if they had to; that they’d almost kill themselves before they grew again. But as soon as those first drops of water fall, those plants begin to stretch and spread their roots. They travel up through the soil and sand to reach the surface, There’s a chance for them again.” 

In the middle of the book, Gemma is given a hand-carved ring made from a gem by Ty. Right after she talks about Ty’s sentence she tells him about a recurring dream she has. She takes off this ring, buries it near a group of boulders called the “Separates”, and covers it back up with the earth. This dream could be a symbol of how Gemma recognizes that whatever they had is over and that they both will be moving on. Maybe this means Gemma never had Stockholm syndrome at all. 

But of course with such an interesting medical condition that I was not well acquainted with, I had to do a little of my own research

Stockholm syndrome is not technically a diagnosis. It does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is widely used by psychologists and the like. Being such a debated topic as to whether or not it should be in that book, some see it too closely related with PTSD, and the syndrome is very rare. Even though it is not a disorder according to “DSM-5”, it explains the symptoms of what we see in Gemma and real-life situations that other disorders do not include. 

During my intense Google searches I realized I have read the autobiography of Jaycee Dugard, a woman who was kidnapped and held hostage, eventually developing Stockholm syndrome. Although this lady is not fictional in comparison to Gemma, I had thought that this syndrome would be fairly common in victims of kidnappings. Statistics proved me wrong. Only 27% of kidnapping victims show any symptoms remotely related to the syndrome and less than 5% of those victims well develop Stockholm. 

I appreciate Christopher’s work, honestly. I love books that can be interpreted in many different ways, and “Stolen” gets the job done through symbols and metaphors. This book is not a too-sensitive topic and is a quick read but will leave your head spinning with thoughts and questions. What happened to Gemma and Ty? What did Gemma say to the Court? Did Gemma really love Ty or was is Stockholm? Stolen can be read by both boys and girls, middle school age and older, but will probably be more interesting to females. The only problems I had with the book were slight logical jumps with characters in Gemma’s life that we did not know much about and of course the gigantic cliff-hanger. Curse you Lucy Christopher for leaving me on edge, yet thank you for such an intriguing read.