It’s a dark reality of the world that no one waits until you’re “old enough” to deal with trauma, and to represent in YA literature the effects of childhood abduction is something that must be done with care, sensitivity, nuance, and great skill. While some of these titles are told from the perspective of the abducted and some from those left behind, what all six have in common is a thoughtful, sometimes chilling, raw, honest approach to a horrific crime and the ways it affects all involved.
Emmy & Oliver, by Robin Benway
When Oliver, kidnapped years earlier by his father, returns to the mother he thought left him and the friends he barely remembers, no one knows quite how to manage his return. But Emmy holds on to the connection they once had, and while everyone else follows directives to give him his space, she makes the effort to understand what he needs and who he has become in their time apart. What emerges are some painful truths, raw feelings, a stronger friendship, and a blossoming romance that feels well earned and satisfying. Benway writes some of my favorite voices in YA, and Emmy’s is pitch perfect in this story of a girl whose childhood best friend has returned home.
If You Find Me, by Emily Murdoch
Sisters Carey and Jenessa are each other’s everything; living completely off the grid with an absentee mother will do that. So when they’re rescued from their forest dwelling one day and slipped into new lives, they know that to share the truth about what their lives have been is to potentially risk the safe, comfortable, maybe-even-love-filled environment they’ve finally found after years of hardship. And selectively mute Jenessa is carrying the biggest secret of all. This story contains one of the most beautiful sister relationships in YA, while being equal parts haunting and hopeful.
Stolen: A Letter to My Captor, by Lucy Christopher
Set in the Australian desert, Stolen is a fascinating and compelling story told in the voice of a 16-year-old girl named Gemma who was kidnapped at the airport, addressed to the man who took her. But Gemma’s letter isn’t what you might expect. Over the course of the book, her captor, Ty, emerges as an increasingly sympathetic character, and the relationship between them as it evolves due to Stockholm Syndrome will haunt readers long after the book ends.
Where the Stars Still Shine, by Trish Doller
It’s a terrifying thing, to be taken from the mother you never knew had kidnapped you and given to the father you never knew, period, but that’s exactly what Callie has to endure at the start of Doller’s sophomore novel. Thrust into a “normal” life with no idea what normal really is, Callie struggles to fit in with the family she doesn’t know, and to have relationships without knowing how they really work. Her journey is messy and imperfect, and that’s exactly why it works.
Pointe, by Brandy Colbert
Theo’s life has been complicated by many things, from an eating disorder to simply striving to be a top ballerina despite the rarity of that achievement for black girls. But most complicated of all is her secret former relationship, and its tie to the kidnapping of her childhood best friend, Donovan. And when Donovan returns, it threatens to bring to the surface everything Theo has been burying, which in turn just may bury Theo.
Living Dead Girl, by Elizabeth Scott
When people ask “How dark is too dark for YA?” my answer is always the same: “Read Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. If you out-dark that, you’ve probably gone too far.” (At a recent panel on dark YA, I actually posed the question of “What’s the darkest YA you’ve ever read?,” and Scott’s book shared top billing with just one other: Forbidden, by Tabitha Suzuma. Which, fair.) This is not a story about return or redemption or rediscovering yourself whether still in captivity or beyond it; this is a story about having everything that makes you leached from your being, of the way captivity breaks your soul, and of finding ways to be strong when you’ve just about run out of reasons to even try. I read many books in one sitting, but this one was extraordinarily memorable for the fact that I did not so much as glance up from the pages even once. I didn’t look at the clock. I didn’t do much of anything until I had finished every last word. And then, in true YA fashion, I released a breath I didn’t even know I’d been holding.