Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Summary: It happened like this. I was stolen from an airport. Taken from everything I knew, everything I was used to. Taken to sand and heat, dirt and danger. And he expected me to love him. This is my story. A letter from nowhere.

Told in a letter to her captor by 16-year-old Gemma, Stolen explores the influence that a really wild and remote space can have on the inner development of a young woman.

Gemma, a British city-living teenager, is kidnapped while on holiday with her parents. Her kidnapper, Ty, takes her to the wild land of outback Australia. To Gemma’s city-eyes, the landscape is harsh and unforgiving and there are no other signs of human life for hundreds of kilometres in every direction. Here, there is no escape. Gemma must learn to deal with her predicament, or die trying to fight it.

Ty, a young man, has other ideas for her. His childhood experience of living in outback Australia has forever changed the way he sees things. But he too has been living in the city; Gemma’s city. Unlike Gemma, however, he has had enough. In outback Australia he sees an opportunity for a new kind of life; a life more connected to the earth. He has been watching and learning about Gemma for many years; when he kidnaps her, his plan finally begins to take shape.

But Ty is not a stereotypical kidnapper and, over time, Gemma comes to see Ty in a new light, a light in which he is something more sensitive. The mysteries of Ty, and the mystery of her new life, start to take hold. She begins to feel something for her kidnapper when he wakes screaming in the night. Over the time spent with her captor, Gemma’s appreciation of him develops …but is this real love, or Stockholm Syndrome?

My Thoughts: I loved Stolen. After reading the summary (young girl, kidnapping, stockholm syndrome) I was kind of apprehensive that it would be false, or stupid, or deceivingly and disgustingly-untrue-abuse romanticized and painted over in a Twilight-esque light. You know, where the creepy “love interest” is supposed to be so tragically romantic and possessive and “unique” and she can change his bad ways, really she can!

It was so far from that. Christopher made Gemma’s terror and fear real to me, and it was obvious almost from the get-go that Ty is not your typical dark and brooding bad boy who is supposed to be “saved” by our heroine. Ty has issues. Real issues and a real history that surround the solitary domain he has built in the arid desert of outback Australia, the place he has kidnapped Gemma to.

There are really only two characters in this novel, and therefore we are intensely focused on the psychology and developments between Ty and Gemma. Christopher makes you fall in love with the landscape even as you know, just as Gemma does, that is inescapable, dangerous, and terrifying. There is a sense of building fragile things, anticipation and feelings rising to a point–and then everything topples over so heartbreakingly. You are sitting there at the end, wondering what exactly happened, just as Gemma does–she is no less confused than the reader.

Stolen is one of my Best Books Read in 2011. Beautiful.

Author Website: http://www.lucychristopher.com/

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The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald

Summary: Lieutenant Jodenny Scott is a hero.  She has the medals and the scars to prove it.

She’s cooling her heels on Kookaburra, recovering from injuries sustained during the fiery loss of her last ship, the Yangtze, and she’s bored — so bored, in fact, that she takes a berth on the next ship out.  That’s a mistake.  The Aral Sea isn’t anyone’s idea of a get-well tour.

Jodenny ‘s handed a division full of misfits, incompetents, and criminals.  She’s a squared-away officer.  She thinks she can handle it all.  She’s wrong.   Aral Sea isn’t a happy ship.  And it’s about to get a lot unhappier.

As Aral Sea enters the Alcheringa — the alien-constructed space warp that allows giant settler-ships to travel between worlds, away from all help or hope — Jodenny comes face to face with something powerful enough to dwarf even the unknown force that destroyed her last ship and left her with missing memories and bloody nightmares.  Lieutenant Jodenny Scott is about to be introduced to love.

Author Sandra McDonald brings her personal knowledge of the military, and of the subtle interplay between men and women on deployment, to a stirring tale that mixes ancient Australian folklore with the colonization of the stars.

My Thoughts: I almost didn’t end up finishing this one, but I’m glad I did.

McDonald’s world-building was very unique and original. I know almost zilch about Australian culture and especially Australian Aboriginal culture. In The Outback Stars, the planets that humans have colonized and moved to are named after areas or significant places in Australia, because the woman who discovered how to travel quickly between planets was Australian. The absent aliens that populated these worlds originally also have some kind of ties to the Aboriginal religion and culture. It was very interesting and I don’t think I’ve read anything like it before.

The Outback Stars started out very slowly, and there was a deluge of character introductions when our heroine joined her new ship. I dislike Deluge of Character Introductions. It’s too much at one time (like 5 new characters per page) and I feel like I have to make a flow chart or some kind of Excel spreadsheet to keep up. There was also a lot of military lingo and lots of acronyms splashed everywhere that I had a hard time understanding, so sometimes I just didn’t try. I feel like McDonald spent a lot of time on these kinds of details and it slowed down the story quite a bit.

The summary makes it sound like the love story will be the focus of the novel–it’s not, and I think I liked it better that way. I haven’t read any of McDonald’s other novels but I didn’t feel the romance here at all. It was sudden and I didn’t understand why exactly they fell in love other than a mutual attraction that had only been sort of simmering on the side for majority of the novel.

But once the story got moving it really got moving. After our heroine and her love interest start cracking the mystery, it got very exciting and (almost) made up for how slow-paced the beginning was. It seemed like everything came to a point in a few last events and I thought McDonald managed to tie it up quite neatly. There were still a lot of unanswered questions so I will definitely be looking into the sequel. I enjoyed Jodenny as a heroine and she was a very admirable character.

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

looking for alibrandi by melina marchettaRating: 7 out of 10
Summary:Seventeen-year-old Josephine Alibrandi is no stranger to conflict. If she’s not caught between her strict single mom and her even stricter grandmother, then she’s trying to choose between wealthy good boy John Barton and working-class bad boy Joseph Coote. Josephine is always in trouble with the nuns at her Catholic school (who everyone calls “penguins because of them wearing wimples and all that Sound of Music gear”) because she fights with native Australian kids over her mixed Australian/Italian heritage. Just when she thinks her situation couldn’t possibly get more complicated, her mysterious, long-lost biological father comes back and Josephine must decide if it’s worth getting to know this person who abandoned her and her mother. But through it all–including a startling revelation from her grandmother and the suicide of a close friend–Josephine manages to hold on to her sense of humor, as in this reflective moment: “I could have been a model for Hot Pants. Except that when I finally put my glasses on, reality set in. Hot Pants would have to wait.”

Summary 2: A scholarship student at a tony Catholic girls’ school, Josie is aware that she is different from her affluent “Aussie” classmates: she’s illegitimate, and she’s closely tied to her Italian immigrant community. She feels periodically rebellious against her classmates’ snobbishness, against the nuns’ authority at school, against her community’s mores. Even so, Josie clearly regards the women in her life–her single mother, her grandmother and even some of the nuns–with affection as well as exasperation. Josie has less experience dealing with guys until senior year, when three members of the opposite sex complicate her world. Her father, who has not previously known of her existence, arrives on the scene unexpectedly, and she can’t help feeling drawn to him. She also becomes involved with two boys her own age: the upper-class but desperately unhappy John Barton and the wilder, iconoclastic Jacob Coote. (both summaries from amazon.com)

My Thoughts: I think this is the third time I’ve read this book–I get something different from it each time because the first time I read it I was quite young–probably elementary school, and the second time I was in middle school, and now I am graduating from high school. I remember being extremely confused when I was younger because of the cultural/geographic differences between Australia and the U.S. Several times in the narration it talks about how July is the coldest month, and school ends in September or something, or it’s hot during Christmas… I was so confused, hahaha.

Some of the plot points and characterizations might sound cliche and stupid from the plot summaries, but Marchetta has a way of making everything very multi-faceted–the characters aren’t just two dimensional cardboard cutouts.

I liked the way the author developed Josephine’s family and relationships, and the way she changed as a person throughout the novel. There were funny aspects (Josie has what most people would call a big mouth), but there were serious and somber aspects too. It ended well. A good “coming-of-age” novel.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

jellicoe road by melina marchettaRating: 8 out of 10
Summary: “What do you want from me?” he asks. What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him. More.

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn’t a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all. In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

Summary 2: Taylor Markham has been living at the Jellicoe School since her mother abandoned her at a gas station when she was eleven. Taylor’s whole life is a mystery to her-from what happened to her mother and who her father was to why certain people in town are so interested in her well-being. As the Jellicoe School students begin their annual territory wars with the Townies and military school cadets, Taylor is thrown together with Jonah Griggs, the leader of the Cadets. Although they are sworn enemies, Taylor and Jonah have a history and find themselves drawn to one another. Together they begin to unravel the tragic story of the five teenagers who started the territory wars a generation before and how their lives are tightly linked with Taylor’s own. (both summaries from bn.com)

Commentary: Neither of those summaries I provided above sound all that great, at least compared to the actual story Marchetta has written. 

I have read her two previous novels, Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. While Marchetta does tend to have a sort of formulaic plot and characters that kind of show up in all her books, she does such a good job that I don’t mind it. 

Jellicoe Road was a little confusing to start out with at first, I almost stopped because I didn’t really get what Marchetta was going for or what kind of tone she was trying to set up in her first few chapters. I had to re-read the beginning. But it got moving right after that and I started to really enjoy it–I didn’t like the double, intertwining storylines at first, but when it started making sense I thought it had some good twists and surprises. 

Marchetta’s books are very “teenage-girl-coming-of-age-discovering-new-things-about-herself-sentimental-heartfelt-hmmm.” It’s nice though, and I really like the way she does the budding teenage romance thing. As a young adult myself, I wouldn’t say that the teens in this book are completely realistic… but it’s enjoyable, in the “i wish i could be as cool and mature and fun as these guys” way.

Good read, recommended.