Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My Story - Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart

Summary:  For the first time, ten years after her abduction from her Salt Lake City bedroom, Elizabeth Smart reveals how she survived and the secret to forging a new life in the wake of brutal crime.

On June 5, 2002, fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart, the daughter of a close-knit Mormon family, was taken from her home in the middle of the night by religious fanatic Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee.  She was kept chained, dressed in disguise, repeatedly raped, and told she and her family would be killed if she tried to escape.  After her rescue on March 12, 2003, she rejoined her family and worked to pick up the pieces of her life.

Now for the first time, in her memoir, My Story, she tells of the constant fear she endured every hour, her courageous determination to maintain hope, and how she devised a plan to manipulate her captors and convinced them to return to Utah, where she was rescued minutes after arriving.  Smart explains how her faith helped her stay sane in the midst of a nightmare and how she found the strength to confront her captors at their trial and see that justice was served.

In the ten years after her rescue, Smart transformed herself from victim to advocate, traveling the country and working to educate, inspire, and foster change.  She has created a foundation to help prevent crimes against children and is a frequent public speaker.  In 2012 she married Matthew Gilmour, whom she met doing mission work in Paris for her church, in a fairy-tale wedding that made the cover of People magazine.  (Summary from book jacket cover and image from  )

My Review:  It seems this book has strong opinions following it.  I'd been intrigued by this story, but hadn't sought out the book.  It quite literally was placed in my hands after my mother had read it.  I remember at the time of her rescue thinking that this poor girl needed time and solitude to heal.  I also remember thinking that I hoped she could overcome this enormous obstacle of abuse.  This book shares how she has gracefully done just that.

Elizabeth Smart endured a horrific experience, being taken from the one place most children think is the safest place in the world: their home.  She was taken from everything she knew and loved, treated like an animal, abused, manipulated, and dragged to California and, thankfully, back to Utah.  Her resilience through the ordeal is to be applauded, respected, and admired.  I remember being fourteen years old.  I knew so little about the world around me, what was within my power, and how to deal with such vicious, self-obsessed evil.  I think it's hard for many to remember that at fourteen Elizabeth was just beginning to realize what the world around her contained.

While the details of her ordeal are, I believe tastefully, left out, even the  more palatable abuse is sickening.  Starving, dying of thirst, and the mental toll of listening to the deranged ranting of a demonic man is bad enough.  In addition to this abuse, Smart was raped, forced to partake in acts she won't describe in this book.

As a fellow member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I understand the modesty, the embarrassment, the confusion she must have felt after having been abused in ways our religion believes are the most sacred acts.  I understand how this must have brought her self-worth down to a level most couldn't understand.  I also understand how she must have hated herself, even when she knew it wasn't her fault.  All of this compounds her experience.  This is why I feel I understand why she left those horrid details out.  While I realize that for the world to understand just how horribly she was abused, I also understand her need to maintain some dignity, keeping some things to herself.

I think my biggest complaint about the book was that the writing fell short.  I don't believe this responsibility is Smart's.  Many lines seemed repeated versions of other lines, descriptions were simplistic, and overall it wasn't a gripping book.  There have been memoirs I haven't been able to put down (Night by Elie Wiesel is one).  This wasn't one of those.  I finished it quickly for two reason: 1) I wanted to return the book to my mother and 2) I wanted to get to the next book in my stack.

This was nice closure for me as a bystander of this case, but I don't know how many people will truly find the read that informative.

For the sensitive reader:  There is multiple mentions of verbal and sexual abuse, although very little detail is ever given.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Sum it up:  A smoothed over version of 9 month ordeal Elizabeth Smart went through.

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