At its core, Stolen is Gemma's reflection on her experience of being in captivity. As a result, the narrative voice seems to carry the weight of her trauma as she explores what happened and delves into the details of it all. She does a lot of looking back on what happened and retrospectively discussing how she handled it, letting us feel her despair, frustration, and fear as the story unfolds before our eyes.
At the same time, though, Gemma is brutally honest with both us and Ty, not holding back even when it comes to her deepest and darkest emotions, especially when she emerges from her exile back into the real world. "I hated you for everything," she tells Ty in her narration, "I hated you for all the emotions in my head, for the confusion … for the way I was suddenly doubting everything" (105.12). This is her chance to really unleash her feelings on Ty, and boy does she.
Still, despite the horror of her ordeal and her anger toward Ty, the writing still carries a hint of genuine compassion and forgiveness toward her captor and a wish for him to do good with what's left of his life. Despite Gemma's emotional turmoil, the language acknowledges that she knows he has the ability to do better. "I want you to see that the person I glimpsed running beside the camel, running to save my life, is the person you can choose to be," she says. "I can't save you the way you want me to. But I can tell you what I feel" (111.9).
Are her feelings complicated? Yup, but only because Gemma acknowledges more than her anger and lets herself explore the ways in which Ty isn't an entirely terrible person. Then again, maybe that's just the Stockholm syndrome talking.
Getting kidnapped isn't the way teenagers normally transition from the innocence of childhood to adulthood, but nonetheless, Gemma's experiences still qualify as a coming-of-age story.
When we first meet her at the airport, Gemma's life is relatively limited—beyond her best friend, Anna, her crush on Ben, the annoyance of Josh, and her relative contempt for her parents' superficial, meaningless professions, there's not a lot of serious stuff going down. Really, she's just an average girl.
Then, Ty swoops in and changes all of that. All of a sudden, this suburban London 16-year-old girl finds herself cut off from civilization in the middle of nowhere, with her kidnapper as her only source of companionship. Talk about girl meets world—the trials and tribulations of social politics and parental struggles just got pretty small.
As a result, Gemma has to learn to think on her feet in order to survive, learning to find outlets for escape, psychologically outwit Ty, and attempt to keep herself safe from whatever dangers he and the desert might pose. "I don't know how I was remembering to do it all," she says of driving the car when she attempts to escape from Ty. "It was like a different part of me had taken over, a more grown-up, logical part that remembered these things" (54.10).
As for young-adult lit, since this is a teenager's story through and through and it is written in a creative and engaging way, it's definitely targeting Gemma's peers as readers.
On the surface, Stolen is primarily a book about a kidnapping, which makes it a pretty appropriate title right off the bat. Still, the title applies to more than just Gemma's story—it's about Ty's experiences as well. The key is when he tells Gemma the story of being taken from his dad's farm to the orphanage and the trauma that resulted. "So they kind of stole you, too" (31.60), Gemma says, realizing that this guy isn't just her kidnapper but was once in kind of the same position she is now.
So, let's broaden our definition a bit. Stolen isn't just a book about kidnapping. It's a book about captivity in general and what happens when people are taken from their usual habitats and transported somewhere frightening and different. This is also why it's significant that the book is subtitled A Letter to My Captor. Gemma isn't absolving Ty of his actions—she recognizes him as the criminal that he is—but in choosing to explain herself to him specifically, it's possible she acknowledges their relationship and the similarities between them.
At the end of her letter, Gemma lets Ty in on a recurring dream she's been having about her time in Australia. In the dream, she's on the path inside the Separates, digging a hole with her hands. When she's made it big enough, she takes off the ring he made for her and puts it in the ground. "I'll start to sprinkle the earth back over it, and I will bury it," she says. "Back where it belongs" (113.2).
Dreams are pretty important throughout Stolen. Gemma dreams of what her parents are doing at home to deal with her absence, while Ty has violent nightmares about being taken away from his dad's farm to the city. In these dreams, the focus is on the past, but the one that ends the book seems to focus on the future.
On one hand, Gemma burying the ring is an act of symbolically returning Ty to the land where he "belongs." He'll obviously be going to jail in the near future, a place where he clearly won't feel he belongs. But in her mind—via her dreams—she can keep the part of him that's passionate about the land and nature in the earth where it should be.
There's another interpretation, though. Perhaps Gemma burying the ring symbolizes not just returning Ty to the land but the rebirth she hopes he'll experience as a result of this whole ordeal. "One day they'll let you out of that dry, empty cell," she says. "You'll return to the Separates, and you'll feel the rain once more. And you'll grow straight this time, toward the sunlight. I know you will" (112.11). Gemma hopes that someday the part of him that is compassionate and beautiful can thrive and grow, if only he'll let it.
The Great Sandy Desert. Seriously, couldn't they have come up with a more creative name? If anything, though, the setting of Gemma's ordeal with Ty is fitting—for miles and miles, there's literally nothing but buckets of sand. Don't believe us? Here's a visual. How would you like to be stuck out there with a guy who may or may not be a psycho killer? Yeah, no thanks.
Part of what makes Stolen such a suspenseful, creepy book is the isolation Gemma experiences. True, kidnapping can be just as horrifying in the middle of a city as in the middle of nowhere, but still—with no hope of rescue and no sign of Ty letting her go, the absolute vastness of the desert makes for a frightening place to tell this story. "No one knows either of us are anywhere," Ty tells Gemma. "We're in the middle of the Australian desert. We're not even on the map" (8.25). Gulp.
The fact that this book is set in uncharted territory is more than slightly unsettling to us as readers. What about how it psychologically affects Gemma? Being abducted is bad enough, but in a way, the isolation of the desert makes her situation even more desperate. Check out her reaction to seeing a panoramic view of the desert when she climbs a tree in the Separates:
There was nothing but sand and flatness and horizon […] there were no buildings on the other side, no towns … not even a road […] Long, flat emptiness. I wanted to scream, probably the only reason I didn't was because I was worried you would hear me. If I'd had a gun, I think I would have shot myself. (17.4)
Maybe it's fear of never seeing her parents again, having Ty kill her, or simply never seeing anything except that desert for the rest of her life, but the setting plays a huge role in the hopelessness Gemma experiences throughout her captivity. In a way, she feels like being there is eroding away her life—"when that wind was up and blowing the sand around," she says, "it felt like it could blow my voice completely away from me, too. I was disappearing with those grains, scattering with the wind" (30.25). We'd say that sums up the odds against her pretty darn well.
Stolen looks short and has a pretty cover with a butterfly on it, but don't be fooled—it takes patience and careful reading to get through this one. Remember, the bulk of the action takes place during Gemma's captivity in Australia, which means there are really only two characters in the book. But, while there are lots of conversations between Ty and Gemma, there are also detailed, lengthy descriptions of Gemma's attempts to escape and strike out on her own. It can be tempting to zone out in moments like these, but we promise that if you pay attention, you'll be rewarded with quite a view.
An epistolary novel is a big, fancy name for a work of fiction told in letters. While the form was frequently used in the 18th and 19th centuries in works like Samuel Richardson's Clarissa and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, letter-based novels as a genre kept on chugging right into the 20th century and remain a popular format today. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, and Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower are just a few examples of modern classics that employ this style.
But enough with the history lesson. Just like these great authors before her, Lucy Christopher takes the novel-in-letters format and puts it to work—with a twist.
For one thing, Stolen is not made up of a series of letters but is rather one gigantic letter broken up into 113 sections. As a result, the presentation of Gemma's ordeal mimics the relentlessness of the actual events—we wait and wait and wait for a chapter break so we can grab a Coke or go pee, but the story just goes on and on. And on. Paging through the paragraphs of text and finding little to no white space kind of gives us an idea of how Gemma must feel looking out from the tree in the Separates: "horizon, horizon, Separates, horizon, horizon … nowhere to run" (30.6). We are trapped in the flow of the story the way she's trapped in the middle of the desert.
What could possibly be so interesting about a pile of giant rocks? That's probably what's going through Gemma's mind when Ty first leads her to the Separates, the natural boulder structure near his house. "That's what I've called them," Ty explains. "They look unlike … kind of … separate from everything else […] They're alone, but they're together in that, at least" (7.28). Alone but together? Gee, that sounds kind of like two people we know.
The fact that the Separates seem totally out of place compared to the rest of the land isn't the only thing that makes them unique. When Ty allows Gemma to go into the structure on her own, she realizes that the Separates aren't at all what they seem from the outside. Behind the rocks is a path that winds through thick vegetation and trees, even leading to a crystal clear spring. "From where I stood, no one would guess at the greenness and life that those rocks contained," Gemma says, "no one would believe the birdsong. Those rocks were secretive and strange. Like you" (30.5).
Under normal circumstances, comparing a bunch of rocks to a person would seem kind of weird, but Gemma's observation that Ty is like the Separates is actually right on. We are tempted to see him as a monster who kidnaps an innocent girl and puts her in danger, but like Gemma, we begin to realize that he's more complicated than that. As we discuss on Ty's page in the "Characters" section, we can't justify what he does—but we can sympathize with him and see that there's a lot more to him than what people are seeing on the front pages of newspapers.
Gemma, on the other hand, has taken the time to walk through the Separates and finds that they, too, aren't what they appear to be. The cave by the pool that "could have been hiding anything. Snakes, crocodiles … bodies" (16.13) turns out to be a source of water that isn't poisoned but rather a source of life. There is a rich grove of greenery that "wasn't like the desert at all" (16.11). Like Ty himself, a landscape that looks rough and frightening actually contains much more. And some of it is even beautiful.
Art is a subtle undercurrent running beneath the surface of Stolen's story. Gemma's mother makes a living buying and selling priceless paintings from foreign countries, while Gemma tries to draw pictures of her family as a way of coping with her isolation.
Most of all, though, there's Ty, who embodies the theme by literally becoming a part of his lifelike, natural work. While we have to admit that there's something a little weird about coating the insides of outbuildings with homemade paint and getting naked and painting your whole body, the imagery of Ty's art strikes a chord with not only Gemma but us as well.
For one thing, Ty's art is an expression of his love of the land's natural beauty. He makes paint from the rocks, moss, and flowers surrounding the property, coats the walls of the outbuilding in it, and adds bits of vegetation to make it more lifelike. When he makes his masterpiece at the end of Gemma's time with him, he even makes himself a part of the landscape, covering himself with "paint and sand, flowers and leaves" (76.2). This love for the land matters, particularly because Ty is such a dark figure in other ways.
On her flight out of Australia, Gemma comes to realize, when she looks down onto the landscape, that the purpose of Ty's art is to become one with the land: "From up there, so far above, the land looked like a painting," she says, "one of your paintings […] I could almost imagine the land was you … stretched out and huge below me" (103.9). In this moment of recognizing Ty's connection to the land through his art, we also see how connected Gemma has become to Ty—she understands him.
But, Ty has another purpose to his art besides becoming a part of the desert landscape. He also uses it as an object lesson to show Gemma what she's missing in her life in the city. "This is what I wanted to show you," he tells her. "The beauty of this land. You need to see how you're a part of it" (76.3). Insofar as Ty loves the land and Gemma, he wants her to connect to it, too, to love the land the way he does. He wants her to feel it would be ridiculous to go home after having seen such beauty.
One thing is certain: The Australian desert is completely unlike anything Gemma has known in her former life: "My head was reeling a little, from the colors and the light […] That room was so different from all the other paintings I'd seen with Mum, so much more real somehow" (75.38). And while she's only there because she's been kidnapped, there are ways in which being here feels "more real," which makes it hard for us to think of her experience with Ty in simple "good" and "bad" terms.
Hump-day jokes aside (and trust us, we've got plenty), the camel—who remains unnamed in spite of Gemma's vote to call her "Stolen"—is a pretty important part of how Gemma interprets her ordeal.
Just as she sees Ty as very much like the Separates, Gemma frequently relates her situation to the camel's after they bring her back to Ty's property. For one thing, the camel's behavior during the capture is an awful lot like Gemma's—she first attempts to fight back. "She moaned and moaned," Gemma describes. "She tried moving […] but you were tightening the rope around her front legs" (43.7).
Gemma herself also fights a lot against Ty—she attempts suicide, threatens to cut out his eye, and physically attacks him on numerous occasions. And yet, his response to her efforts is the same as his response to the camel's: "You're dreaming if you think you're going to get away, girl" (43.16). Um … creepy.
Ty's approach to dealing with the camel even mirrors his dealings with Gemma's rebellion. As he walks her around the pen back at his house, he explains how he's trying to break her down and get her to accept him—the camel, that is, not Gemma. "Baby steps," he says. "Just one tiny thing at a time until she learns to accept […] Once she trusts me and she's accepted me, she'll like it better this way" (47.11, 14). Ty is talking about the camel here, but he might as well be talking about Gemma. He takes the exact same approach to convincing her to accept her new home.
We're not going to touch the debate about whether or not Gemma has Stockholm syndrome, but we will say this—Gemma adapts to Ty in the same way the camel adjusts to being with them instead of her herd. Because of this, the part where Ty lets her go once they make their journey to the car to take Gemma to the airstrip is pretty gut-wrenching. As Ty drives away, "she moved into a lope. She ran beside us" (86.13). While Gemma has spent weeks imagining her escape, the truth is that part of her doesn't want to leave, either. Just like the camel doesn't want to part ways.
Starting way back in the Garden of Eden when the infamous serpent convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, snakes have kind of gotten a bad rap in literature, and Stolen is no exception. Ty's property is literally crawling with them, and even though he says that there's nothing to worry about, we're not really buying it. Think about it: Ty doesn't actually say a snake isn't dangerous—he tells Gemma that "it's harmless […] Pretty much" (40.64) and to "just wear boots, okay?" (13.15). Dude, that's not very reassuring.
Anyway, it's par for the course in fiction that when a snake shows up, bad things happen. Still, we think there's a chance the symbolism might go deeper than that. Ty tries to get Gemma to believe that the snake poses no real threat … and yet, when it bites her, she almost dies. Similarly, Ty tries to get her to believe that he isn't going to hurt her, and yet he puts her in grave danger. It may be mostly because of literary allusions from the past, but just the presence of a snake indicates that stuff's going to go bad.
To dig just a bit deeper, there's one more thing we'd like to point out. In the Bible, the serpent leads to Eve and Adam getting booted from Paradise. And in Stolen, getting bitten by the snake leads to Gemma finally being freed from Ty's kidnapping compound. Which leaves us with a couple of questions: Is the snake actually bad news? Is Lucy Christopher suggesting that the knowledge Adam and Eve gained at the serpent's urging was totally worth it? Is Christopher implying that life with Ty is somehow similar to Paradise? Over to you, Shmoopers. Have fun.
When Ty first meets Gemma when she's 10, he leaves an "abandoned and tattered" (37.34) robin's nest on her windowsill. In the present day, he tells her that when he found it, he took it to be "a sign that a person could do something different" (37.36)—like, for instance, kidnap a teenage girl and take her to a remote region of Australia. Of course, that's not the way Ty sees it. To him, he's going to the only place where he's ever really belonged, and he's taking Gemma with him.
So, it might seem like kind of a bizarre gift to leave for the girl you're stalking and will eventually abduct, but in a weird way, the nest symbolizes the connection that develops between Ty and Gemma. For one thing, the robin's nest is literally a broken home. As Ty tells Gemma, robins are "fierce birds […] They'll defend their home to the death" (37.27). And death seems to have occurred at the nest he brings her since it's clearly abandoned and destroyed. In the same way, Ty breaks Gemma's family's home by stealing her, leaving her family empty and completely changed.
That might be the negative side of things, but the dream Gemma has while reeling from the snake venom points to her starting to understand Ty as a person. She dreams of looking in her own bedroom window and seeing herself as a 10-year-old girl asleep in bed, then leaving the empty nest on her windowsill. "And then, I knew," she says. "I was you placing the bird's nest. But I was also me, looking out, too. I was us both" (84.16). While Ty brings damage into Gemma's life by kidnapping her, she nonetheless comes to relate to him and understand what led him to do what he did. And, in this way, they're sort of twisted birds of a feather.
Given the seriousness of her situation, it makes sense that Gemma would be the one telling us the story. However, there's a twist—her audience isn't just us as readers, but Ty. While he's likely never going to get to read it (he's locked up until his trial and then will likely be locked up for a long time), Gemma tells us the story in her own voice while simultaneously addressing Ty directly, using the pronoun "you" throughout the book.
This has an interesting effect because we're not only getting her account of the events, but the characters of Ty, her friends, and family are filtered through her eyes. Ty may be the primary person being addressed, not us, but we still get to feel like we're eavesdropping on their correspondence, experiencing the honesty and intimacy of Gemma's memories.
We first meet Gemma when she's fighting in the airport with her mom over whether or not her shirt is too low-cut. There's also a creepy guy following them everywhere, which makes Gemma a little bit uneasy. When he offers to buy her coffee because she doesn't have the right currency, though, Gemma is quick to accept.
Things take an unexpected turn when Ty drugs Gemma and kidnaps her, taking her to Australia to live on an isolated property in the middle of the desert. Wow. Suddenly, fighting with her mom about her clothes doesn't seem so important anymore.
After a month or so of being kept against her will at Ty's place, Gemma gets bit by a snake as Ty tries to wrangle it. Because Ty is a weirdo, he has antivenom stockpiled and uses it to stop the infection, but it doesn't do any good. Ty makes the choice to return Gemma to civilization rather than have her potentially die—even if it means getting caught.
Back in the real world, Gemma finds herself struggling to recover from both the physical damage of being in the desert and the emotional aspects of her kidnapping. On one hand, Ty kidnapped her and that's totally not right. But, on the other hand, she finds that she has developed genuine feelings of concern and affection for him. She spends most of her time fighting with her parents, doctors, and herself about the true nature of Ty's character.
We learn that this whole book is a letter Gemma has written to Ty to help process her feelings. While she debates lying to the jury and saying that she willingly went with Ty, she instead decides to tell the truth but also share the side of Ty that convinces her he isn't all bad. She tells Ty that she hopes he can eventually become the man she's seen as a result of this experience.