When we first meet Gemma, she's arguing with her mom over whether or not the shirt she's wearing is inappropriate. You don't get any more typical, everyday teenager than that. Little does Gemma know, though, that as she leaves her parents behind to go get a cup of coffee, her whole life is about to change. Forever. Her ordeal with Ty, while traumatic, reshapes Gemma's worldview and alters the way she sees pretty much everything around her. So, let's take a look.
We may not get much of a glimpse of Gemma's life before she's kidnapped, but one thing's for sure—what we do see doesn't exactly look great. For one thing, she has a pretty tough relationship with her mom and dad, and we're not just talking about the tank top fight. In Gemma's first encounter with Ty, she tells him that her parents' jobs lack substance. "I mean, they just collect stuff," she says. "Dad collects people's money and Mum collects people's drawings. What do they really do that's theirs?" (1.43). Guess she's not exactly trying to be like them when she grows up …
This kind of angst might be normal for teens—who among them really looks at their parents as examples?—but still, we think there's a tinge of bitterness in the way Gemma describes her parents' jobs here that kind of rises above the usual level of "parents just don't understand"-itis. She seems to almost have contempt for them, even saying that her dad's job is "pretty boring, looking after other people's money […] not that he thinks so" (1.38). To quote the immortal words of Holden Caulfield, she seems to think both of them are phonies of the highest (or lowest) degree.
Gemma's problems don't seem to stop when she leaves home, though—we can also see that, like any typical teen her age, she also has some teen social politics going on, particularly when it comes to her best friend, Anna. Here's the deal: Gemma has a crush on Anna's boyfriend, Ben. She seems pretty reluctant to admit it, but there are some dead giveaways, like when she says she "spent hours thinking about him, imagining he was there with me, my fingers in his floppy, sun-bleached hair" (26.8). Not only that, but this summer, Anna chose to go to the beach with Ben rather than spend the vacation with Gemma. So, yeah—things are definitely in upheaval at home when Ty takes her.
It kind of goes without saying that getting drugged in an airport and waking up in the middle of nowhere would jar your senses a bit. For Gemma, that means a lot of fear and anger. "It was like a grisly horror film, only I hadn't made it to the knife scene yet" (8.47), she writes. Convinced that she's going to die, she even makes a suicide attempt in Ty's bathroom, trying to take care of her imminent death herself rather than let him have control over it.
Maybe this isn't exactly an auspicious beginning to this new chapter in Gemma's life, but as her time with Ty progresses, she seems to lay aside her "all hope is lost" attitude and try to find a way to stay alive.
This brings out a surprising side of Gemma that she didn't know was there. Check out the part where Ty finally agrees to let her try to run away and see how far she can get before the elements get to her. "I turned the key," she says as she describes getting in the car. "I don't know how I was remembering how to do it all. It was like a different part of me had taken over, a more grown-up, logical part that remembered these things" (54.10). Gemma, it seems, possesses a strength and savvy she never knew she had.
Gemma also discovers psychological ways of surviving in her situation, particularly when it comes to dealing with Ty. After she attempts to escape and Ty brings her back to his house, Gemma finds herself "testing how far I could push you" (69.1) before he snaps and can't handle dealing with her. She tries to convince him to take her back to the real world by telling him how much he must hate her to keep her there and tells him how "messed up" (69.39) he is for it.
While her efforts to get Ty to crack don't work, it's clear that she's trying to get inside his head to see what could potentially break him. Despite trying to kill herself early on, Gemma isn't going down without a fight.
Ultimately, we can't get out of asking about Gemma's feelings toward Ty and what they actually are. Close to the end of her time at his house, Ty takes Gemma to one of his outbuildings to show her a painting he's made that is designed to come to life as the sun sets. While she's seen multiple examples of Ty's love of nature and his desire for her to know the land as he does, this particular painting awakens what he's been trying to show her about their environment all along. She writes:
I turned my head and tried to take in all of the painting at once. My head was reeling a little; from the colors and the light, or your cigarette, I don't know. That room was so different from all the other paintings I'd seen with Mum, so much more real, somehow. And yes, I admit it; it was beautiful. Wildly beautiful. Your fingers traced patterns on my arm: circles and dots. The touch of them didn't scare me anymore. (76.38)
It's hard to tell exactly what's going on in Gemma's head at this moment. Is it Ty's artistic, free spirit that moves her to see him as more than just her kidnapper? Or is Stockholm syndrome kicking in full force? We can't say for sure—in fact, Christopher seems intent on keeping Gemma's feelings for Ty somewhat ambiguous. It's hard to tell whether the emotions she feels for him are justified or symptoms of having been in captivity for too long.
Moreover, Gemma doesn't even seem to know, especially after she's returned to the real world. "At every moment since you'd left me, all I could think about was you," Gemma says. "I wanted your arms around me, your face close to mine […] You'd kidnapped me, put my life in danger … but I loved you, too. Or thought I did. None of it made sense" (105.13). Ugh.
In the end, while Gemma's emotions toward Ty are still confused, she makes the decision to set them aside and look at the situation objectively: Ty broke the law, kidnapped her, put her in danger, and deserves to be punished. "What you did to me wasn't this brilliant thing, like you think it was," she says. "You took me away from everything […] And you expected me to love you. And that's the hardest part. Because I did, or at least, I loved something out there. But I hated you, too. I can't forget that" (111.3-4). It's the closest to peace Gemma's come in a long time.