This is a stunning book. There are basically only two characters: 16-year-old Gemma, and 24-year-old Ty. The book is written in the first person, in the form of a letter sent from Gemma to Ty.
Ty has been watching Gemma for years, since she was ten, and when she is at the airport on a trip with her parents going from Britain to Vietnam, Ty kidnaps Gemma and takes her to the desert in Australia.
Ty doesn’t hurt Gemma, nor does he assault her. He tells her he wanted to rescue her from the shallowness of her life, because he knows she would want more. He wants to teach her about the desert and the beauty of natural things. But she is terrified for a long time, and is convinced he is just waiting for the opportunity to kill her. Slowly, however, Gemma gets to know Ty, and her feelings change.
Mirroring their story is a subplot in which Ty captures and tames a camel for them to use for milk and transportation. The fear, anguish, acceptance and finally love of the camel for his captors is as compelling and heartbreaking as Gemma and Ty’s story.
We know that something about Gemma’s captivity will change, because Gemma is writing this letter to Ty, but we don’t know what it will be until near the end. But it is not the suspense that is so riveting but the process that gets us there. We are made privy to every sight, smell, taste, and perception of Gemma as she struggles from day to day to come to terms with her fate. No gritty detail is omitted, but rather than seeming tedious, this takes us wholly into Gemma’s experience like no account of an abduction I’ve ever read. And the author’s ability to conjure the harsh desert landscape is remarkable.
We come to understand Ty and admire him in many ways, especially for the way he resists any mistreatment of Gemma, no matter what the provocation. He also has an artistic streak, and teaches Gemma to look around her with a new appreciation she never had in the city. And he is brave; brave beyond what Emma is as she works her way from terror to love, and brave in ways he never thought he would have to be.
Evaluation: I would have wanted a different ending, but the one the author chose is probably the more realistic. And “realistic” is definitely a hallmark of this extraordinary book. You won’t want to put down this absorbing portrait of two shattered people who navigate through their angst and fear and rage in search of healing and renewal, and you won’t soon forget it. Highly recommended.
Note: There is no sexual abuse, or even sex, for that matter, in this book.
Published by Chicken House, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., 2010