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I will never cease to be fascinated by Jaycee Dugard and will be in a forever state of awe at what she went through and how she managed to come out somewhat clean on the other side.

For those who are unfamiliar with her, she is one of the most famous kidnap survivors. In June 1991, 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped from a school bus stop within sight of her home in South Lake Tahoe, California. She was taken by Phillip and Nancy Garrido, a registered sex offender and his wife, and was held captive in their backyard for more than 18 years, during which she bore two children with the man. In 2009, Dugard and her daughters were miraculously recovered after nearly two decades of captivity in a madman’s backyard. She told her disturbing-yet-necessary story in her first memoir, A Stolen Life, in 2011. Freedom: My Book of Firsts, published in 2016, is her account of “what happened next”: who Jaycee Lee Dugard is today after everything she went through.

I’ve always been fascinated with kidnapping stories. I can’t really explain it. They’ve really drawn my attention, ever since I was a kid. I used to watch Without a Trace reruns religiously, and I was really bothered by a missing child’s case one summer when I was young. It was a girl my age, and she was from a few cities away from me. Her picture was everywhere, and the story was spread all over our area. No reliable leads were ever found, but every year on the anniversary of her disappearance, there was something about her on our local newscast. In December 2015, I heard word that they found her remains deep in a forest, and they had been there so long that very little forensic evidence could be taken from them. It was a very surreal experience, even though I didn’t know the girl or didn’t live near her. She was my age and, being fascinated and often disturbed by missing children’s cases, I never forgot about her.

(Photo Credit: Goodreads)

When Jaycee Dugard was found in 2009 and parts of her story hit the media, I didn’t really know how to react. It was so unbelievable to me that a little girl kidnapped in 1991 would have been kept all that time, given birth to two children fathered by her captor, and found alive all that time later. I remember she was very avoidant of the media at the time, and rightfully so, so it was a few more years until I really became invested in her; when A Stolen Life came out in 2011 and she gave her first television interview to Diane Sawyer for 20/20 on ABC. She recounted everything she went through, painful as it was, and how she was learning to pick up the pieces after coming out (somewhat) clean on the other side. Admittedly, I’ve only read A Stolen Life in parts. I’ve read the beginning, I’ve read the end and I’ve read the parts in the middle, but it was just too disturbing for me to read in one sitting. Not to say that she shouldn’t have told her story because it was disturbing (the girl was held captive in a backyard for 18 years by a pedophile; of course it’s gonna be disturbing), but what she went through, without exaggerating, kept me up at night. I remember reading parts of it while on vacation in Cape Cod one summer and not being able to fall asleep one night, because her words of she went through wouldn’t leave my mind.

When Dugard announced she was publishing a new book called Freedom, needless to say I was interested. As much as I was in awe of her story and her strength as a result, I was even more interested in how she learned to cope back in the real world after spending more time in captivity than she ever did with her own family. Better yet, she did a second interview with Diane Sawyer to promote the new book, exactly five years after her first interview. Again I was enthralled and had goosebumps from this woman’s undying perseverance and faith in the human condition to survive impossible situations and still find the positive light in it all. When Freedom: My Book of Firsts popped up at my library, I knew I had to check it out. A lot of critics and reviewers rated it poorly because of her amateurish and often juvenile writing style (it’s clear she was given more creative freedom with this memoir compared to A Stolen Life), but I actually liked her writing style; it wasn’t perfect (not everyone can spit out a memoir and have it be amazingly written, you know) but it felt like I was getting to know the real her and for 250 pages I got to spend time with her and learn about her life in freedom and how she learned to laugh and find that positive light, even when it seemed impossible. I was glad I finally chose to check out Freedom and if you’ve ever heard anything about Jaycee Dugard, or you read her first book and are apprehensive about this one, I recommend checking it out. Her strength and ability to learn to let go is an inspiration, and I hope that she might publish a third book in the future.

Be sure to check out my personal blog, Living on Guilty Pleasures, where I talk about books, movies, TV, music, pop culture and everything in between.