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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2313

At the beginning of Lucy Christopher’s debut novel, Stolen , sixteen-year-old Gemma meets an attractive man in the Bangkok airport and thinks he looks familiar. He drugs her coffee and takes her on a confusing, blurry journey. When she awakens, she finds herself in a small house in the Australian...

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At the beginning of Lucy Christopher’s debut novel, Stolen, sixteen-year-old Gemma meets an attractive man in the Bangkok airport and thinks he looks familiar. He drugs her coffee and takes her on a confusing, blurry journey. When she awakens, she finds herself in a small house in the Australian outback. There is nobody around, and there is not even a road to indicate in which direction a town might be. She runs away anyway. Her kidnapper, Ty, chases her down. He does not hurt her, but he is so strong he subdues her easily even when she fights him.

Ty brings Gemma back to his house and explains that she has no chance of surviving in the desert if she tries to flee. When she realizes how hopeless her situation is, she threatens to hurt herself, but he stops her. For a few days she stays in bed, refusing to eat. When she finally gets up, Ty takes her outside and explains that he has brought her to Australia because it is a beautiful, magical place. He claims they are in an unmapped desert. This is a spot he found as a child and has returned to as an adult. Nobody else knows about the spot; he built all the buildings and laid the pipe to bring water from a spring to the house. He says he intends to keep Gemma forever.

Gemma watches Ty for days, hoping to learn his routine so she can escape. He gets up in the mornings and goes into an outbuilding; he returns to eat and sleep. Eventually she asks what he does in the other building. He says he makes art. He lets her come with him to see, but on the threshold he grabs her. Gemma panics, thinking he wants to kill her. He only wants to prevent her from disturbing his artwork, but before she realizes this, she thrashes around and disturbs a great deal. When she calms down, she sees that Ty is painting a desert scene that fills a whole room. He cries over the damage she has done, and she begs him to let her go. He warns her that she will get lost, but he does not stop her.

Gemma runs up a hill to two boulders, then she follows a path between them to a little shaded glen with a spring that provides the water for the house. Around the spring, she finds trees, a garden, and a few chickens in cages. She hides all day, and Ty builds a fence around the boulders so she cannot run further. When night falls, it grows very cold. Ty drives circles around the fence in his car, waiting for her to appear. She tries to stay hidden, but eventually he spots her. He carries her back to the house and wraps her in blankets to warm her up.

Gemma spends the next several days in bed, thinking about her parents and her life in London. She wonders how long they will keep trying to find her. When she finally gets up, she tells him she thinks she recognizes him from before the airport, and he admits he has been watching her for six years—since she was ten years old. He claims she should remember meeting him, but she does not.

Ty tells Gemma that his mother, a Londoner, abandoned him to his Australian father when he was born. He grew up on a farm in this desert. He knew no other children, but he learned about the land from Aborigines who worked on the farm. One day his father disappeared, and Ty ran wild in the desert for about a year until people realized he was out there. They caught him and took him to an orphanage in the city, where he was forced to live in a room without even a window. He despises the city, and he claims that Gemma does too. He says that he did not steal her; he saved her.

At night, Gemma plots to kill Ty, but she does not know how to do it. She steals a dull knife from the kitchen, but it does not seem adequate to the job. She uses it to scratch the bedpost with a mark for every day since Ty stole her. During the day, she watches Ty and sometimes allows him to show her the land around the boulders. It confuses her that she finds his perfect body beautiful.

One day in his paint shed, Ty tells Gemma how he met her. He was a homeless drunk living in the park by her house, and he heard her, a little girl, playing among the flowers. She found him in the bushes and talked to him without fear. He says she reminded him of his own childhood:

It made me realize where I belonged...not in a city park with cheap store-bought spirits, but out here in the land I knew, with the real ones.

Gemma says it was “sick” that he got obsessed with a ten-year-old girl, but Ty says he never intended to abduct her until much later. He claims that Gemma is different from other city people and that her parents do not love her or want her. Gemma kicks over a can of Ty’s paint. He raises a fist to hit her, but he holds himself back.

The next day, Ty drives Gemma even deeper into the desert. She is afraid because she thinks he might intend to kill her. Instead they have a meager picnic, and he points out termite mounds and kangaroos. Then he catches a camel and brings it back to his house. Gemma spends the next few days watching him train it. Gemma wants to name the camel Stolen, but Ty calls that a “crap name.” He says that once the camel develops faith in him, it will like being with him.

Gemma asks Ty if she ever saw him after their first meeting, and he says he followed her often over the next few years. He describes a night she spent drinking in the park with some friends. A boy she knew, Josh, chased her when she went off alone, and someone stopped him. Ty claims he stopped Josh. He says that was the night he decided to bring Gemma to the desert.

Gemma asks how Ty got to England in the first place. He says he came looking for his mother, who once wrote him a letter saying she wanted him to come. When he arrived in London, the address from the letter was a run-down house filled with squatters. He searched for his mother, and he might have spoken to her on the phone once, but the woman he talked to showed no interest in him. He kept looking anyway, but he never found her. He descended into a life of drinking until he first met Gemma. Then he decided to get back to Australia and build his place in the desert. To raise the money for his plan, he stole and begged, but mostly he worked as a prostitute.

While alone in Ty’s house one day, Gemma finds a sharp needle in an old, dirty sewing machine. She steals it and waits for the right moment. She goes on a walk with Ty and listens as he tells her about the desert. When he sits down against a tree and closes his eyes, she threatens him with the needle and demands his car keys. He refuses to tell her which way to go, warning her that she will die in the desert. She runs anyway, driving in the direction of some hills, hoping to find a mine Ty has mentioned. The hills turn out to be sand dunes, and the car gets stuck in the sand far from any road, house, or phone line. She sleeps through the worst heat of the day, then she tries and fails to get the car unstuck. In the morning she sets out walking. Soon she is sunburned and delirious. She gets so hot she strips off all her clothes. She keeps walking, and then crawling, until she cannot go farther.

When Gemma wakes up, she is back at Ty’s house. Her red, blistered body is covered with cool cloths. Two fans blow cool air on her. She finds Ty at her side, and she thanks him. He says he followed her tracks but never got to the car. She was headed back toward him when she collapsed. She heals relatively quickly.

One day Gemma cannot find Ty. She looks all over, even in a shed she has never entered before. It is full of supplies—enough to last years. It also contains cages full of snakes, scorpions, and spiders. Appalled, Gemma goes back to the house and steals a bottle of rum on her way. That night, when Ty has still not returned, she barricades herself in her room and drinks the rum. In the morning, Ty comes back and says he had to leave to get something. He does not explain what.

Ty acts kind; he cooks for Gemma and continues to help her sunburn heal. He explains that he keeps venomous animals in the shed so he can make antivenom. He plans to milk the animals’ poison and inject the camel with it so he can extract her antibodies. Then they will have a supply of antivenoms in case Gemma ever gets bitten or stung by a poisonous animal.

Gemma continues to ask Ty to let her go. He says she will not want to go in time. They fight. He says he loves her, while she says he is “a dog” who would abduct another girl if she managed to escape. Eventually they make a deal that if she still wants to leave in four months, he will take her to a town. The next day, Ty disappears into his painting shed. Gemma finds him in there painting the ceiling, and he invites her to see it in the evening. She comes back then, and he is finished painting the whole room, including the ceiling and himself. He is naked, but he is so covered in paint it takes her a moment to notice. She helps him paint his back but refuses to paint herself. They watch from the center of the room as the light from the sunset falls on all the colors. In spite of everything, Gemma finds it beautiful.

After the sun sets, Gemma says she wants to sit outside for a while. Ty joins her with blankets and tea. She does not want him with her, but for some reason she cannot bring herself to say so. They sit together talking about the stars, and he marvels that she would want to go back to London. She asks if he would still steal her if he could go back and do it over. He says he would. As it gets colder, Ty holds Gemma close. Eventually they both fall asleep.

In the morning Gemma awakens to find a note saying Ty has gone to find a snake. She sets out looking for him, and she finds him just as he is attempting to catch a death adder. She is not wearing shoes, and when the snake comes toward her she panics and tries to flee. It bites her on the ankle. Ty carries her to the house and injects her with antivenom he stole from a research lab, but it does not work, possibly because he has not kept it cold. He gives her a choice: he can give her natural substances that will help her ride out the pain or he can take her to the mine, where there is a clinic and an airstrip. He looks “tortured” when she chooses to go back, but he goes immediately to get ready.

Ty builds a stretcher and ties Gemma to the camel, giving her a gum-like substance to chew to dull the pain. After a long journey, they arrive at his car. He puts her inside and releases the camel back into the desert. Gemma rides through the agonizing bouncing of the vehicle to the mine site, where a stranger helps her and takes her to a plane. Ty tries to say good-bye, but Gemma is afraid. She holds on to him, and he boards the plane with her.

After she arrives at the hospital in the city, Gemma does not see Ty again. She sees her parents and the police as well as a psychiatrist who thinks she has Stockholm syndrome. Gemma soon realizes that Ty lied to her about her parents not loving her, and she knows Ty was wrong to steal her. However, she also wants to be able to admit he was not all bad. Her parents rent an apartment in Perth; they plan to stay until Ty’s trial. Gemma often thinks about how he is stuck in a prison cell.

Stolen ends not long before Gemma is supposed to testify against Ty at trial. She has written the story as a letter to him, and now she has a choice. She can tell the judge that Ty is a monster who kidnapped her, or she can lie and say that she went with him willingly. As she writes out her options, she cries and realizes she cannot bring herself to save him with a lie. She will tell the whole truth as she sees it. She hopes that the judge is not too harsh. She hopes that Ty understands he was wrong—but she also hopes he will get out of prison someday and go back to life on the land he loves. She admits, as her story ends, that she has been dreaming about that land since she left it.


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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1107

Author: Lucy Christopher

First published: 2009, in the United Kingdom

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Realism

Time of plot: Present day

Locale: The Great Sandy Desert, Australia

Principal characters

Gemma Toombs, a sixteen-year-old kidnap victim

Tyler MacFarlane, her kidnapper

Anna, her best friend

Ben, Anna's boyfriend

Dr. Donovan, one of her psychologists

The Story

While waiting for an international flight that will take the Toombs family on a business trip from Bangkok, Thailand, to Vietnam, Gemma argues with her parents over her outfit. To give herself a break, the London native goes to get a coffee while they wait to board the plane. She is embarrassed to realize that she does not have the correct currency to purchase the coffee, but a handsome stranger offers to pay for her beverage. After he then insists that she sit with him in the crowded café, her life changes; over the next few moments, he drugs her and whisks her away to a lonely property in the middle of Australia's Great Sandy Desert.

Once Gemma fully awakens and begins to understand what has happened, she struggles with a range of emotions. She is fearful, expecting Ty, her kidnapper, to either hurt or kill her at any moment. She contemplates taking her own life, but Ty removes anything she might use to harm herself. He allows her to try to escape, but the place where he has taken her is too far from civilization for her to find help. Although that fact does not stop her from continuing to think about escape or hurting him so that she can get away, as the days pass, she begins to look at him differently, sometimes sympathizing with him and often curious about what motivates him. She finds herself physically attracted to him, but she is appalled at herself for thinking that way.

Ty is willing to answer most of Gemma's questions, and she discovers how truly sinister his attraction to her is when he reveals that he has been watching her since she was ten years old. Over the next days and weeks, he begins to influence her thoughts. He plants the idea that neither her parents nor her friends really care about her. As she becomes confused by these thoughts, she starts to question her reality and begins to accept him on some level. When he has her help him capture and tame a young female camel, she cannot help but see the similarity to her own situation, but her anger still bubbles and she attempts escape with Ty's car. After bogging the car down in the desert sand, she wanders away from it with hopes of finding a mining camp that Ty has accidentally mentioned. Instead of finding safety, however, she almost dies of exposure and dehydration. Ty rescues her, and the transformation in their relationship blossoms.

Just when Gemma has a plan to get home, having convinced Ty to return her to civilization after four more months have passed, she starts to see Ty as a person. This sympathy for the abused boy influences her feelings for him, and as he teaches her to see the beauty of the landscape around them, she loses her fear of him. She writes of this time, "A part of me was starting to accept you. I wondered, if I gave in to that part, if I leaned into you in return, where would it lead?"

Gemma is not meant to be with Ty, however, and when she is bitten by a deadly snake, he takes her back to civilization for treatment. She is hospitalized immediately, and Ty turns himself over to the police. After awakening from treatment, Gemma is reunited with her parents, but she is torn. She cannot stop herself from thinking about the doubts that Ty had planted and about the tentative romantic feelings for him that had crept up on her. Doctors, police, and psychologists work with her to help her understand the Stockholm syndrome evident in her confusion, and as the book draws to a close, she realizes that she must testify to the reality of her kidnapping, not the idealized version that she has created in her mind and dreams.

Critical Evaluation

Stolen, Lucy Christopher's debut novel, received the United Kingdom's Branford Boase Award in 2010 and was named a Michael L. Printz Honor book by the Young Adult Library Services Association in 2011. One of the elements that stands out in the novel is the point of view. Gemma narrates the story in a first-person point of view, but she is not talking to a general audience; she is talking directly to Ty, addressing him in the second person. By the time the novel draws to a close, she reveals that her narrative is in the form of a letter, as one of her psychologists encouraged her to write about the kidnapping. Despite an initial reluctance, she eventually decides to compose a letter, sharing her experience directly with Ty. It is through this process that she is able to both face her ordeal and begin healing from the trauma of it. The first-person point of view gives readers unfiltered insight into a complicated relationship.

Another significant element of the novel is the complicated and multilayered psychological journey Gemma undergoes. Christopher traces her story from the opening terror she experiences when she realizes she has been kidnapped through the quiet doubt that seeps into her heart as Ty plants questions about her family and friends in her mind. The most shocking change is the gentle acceptance that gradually sneaks into her psyche after Ty rescues her. Through these subtle modifications of Gemma's understanding, the author showcases the dangers of Stockholm syndrome for victims of traumatic situations. Gemma's ability to accept that she must testify against Ty is evidence of an inner strength, and the novel ends with a sense of hope for both Gemma and Ty, whom Gemma believes will get a second chance to live his life differently after he is released from prison and returns to the shack he had built.

Further Reading

  • Cart, Michael. Review of Stolen, by Lucy Christopher. Booklist, 15 Mar. 2010, p. 40. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=48781121&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 19 Mar. 2018.
  • Review of Stolen, by Lucy Christopher. Kirkus Reviews, 15 Apr. 2010, p. 357. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=50221687&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 19 Mar. 2018.
  • Review of Stolen, by Lucy Christopher. Publishers Weekly, 12 Apr. 2010, p. 53. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=49391266&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 19 Mar. 2018.
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