Gemma: A Novel

Gemma: A Novel

by Meg Tilly


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After Hazen Wood kidnaps twelve-year-old Gemma Sullivan, the two embark upon a cross-country journey that tests the limits of Gemma's endurance. In scenes of physical and sexual violence, Hazen tries to destroy the young girl's will. When she does manage to escape he drags her back and threatens to have her arrested for the violent acts he performs. It is only Gemma's resilience and fertile imagination that protects her from the worst of the trauma she suffers. And, in the end, it is the healing power of unconditional love that gives Gemma the courage to speak out against her abuser at last and claim the life she deserves.

Alternating between the voices of Gemma and Hazen Wood, Meg Tilly has brilliantly brought to life powerful and unforgettable characters that will leave you thinking about them long after you turn the last page.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312605292
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 02/16/2010
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 754,452
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Meg Tilly is the author of Singing Songs (Dutton 1994) and Porcupine (Tundra 2007), a children's book. Formerly an accomplished actress, Ms. Tilly is best known for her role as Chloe in The Big Chill and the title role in Agnes of God, for which she won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in 1986, as well as an Oscar nomination. She lives with her family in British Columbia.

Read an Excerpt


Buddy, my mama’s boyfriend, was waiting for me after school. Waiting in his old rusty blue pickup truck. Almost didn’t see him. Almost walked right by, on account of nobody ever picking me up at school before. "Hey, Gemma . . ." he called, and tooted his horn a bit. Boop . . . boop . . . Like that.

"Hey, Gemma . . ." And I’m looking around, trying to figure out who’s calling my name. Doesn’t sound like no kid from school. So I’m looking around, can’t see him because the sun’s reflecting on his dirty windshield and, yeah, I know his truck. I mean, if somebody said, "I want you to pick out Buddy’s truck," if they had a car lineup or something, I’d be able to pick it out fine. Bam. No problem. "That’s his truck right there," I’d say.

The thing is, I wasn’t expecting him. It was out of context. That’s why I didn’t recognize it.

Pretty good, huh? The way I slipped that in. Context. And I think I used it right. I try to work my spelling words into my regular conversation.

That’s what my teacher, Mrs. Watson, says we got to do. "Make friends with the words," she says. "Use them, feel them on your tongue, taste them. Let these new words I give you enhance your way of speaking."

Some of the kids laugh at her behind her back. They think she’s weird, but I like listening to her talk so passionate and earnest, her cheeks and the sides of her neck getting all flushed and red. "Language will set you free," she says, in ringing tones, like she’s a minister standing at the front of the church, preaching hell and redemption. "Language will set you free." She says it ferocious, like it’s real important, a life-and-death matter to her that we understand. Like it’ll save us from gangs, and no money, and no food in the house because our moms are out boozing again.

It’s one of Mrs. Watson’s favorite sayings. "Language will set you free." Says it maybe five times a day. Arm out, gesturing, hand all smudgy from the chalkboard. Or sometimes she pounds the desk when she says it, or a book she’s holding in her hand. And she really seems to believe it, so I don’t know. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but just in case she’s right, I work on my language, my spelling words, my vocabulary. I work on them hard, because I wouldn’t mind being free.

And that’s another thing. She gives us real weird writing assignments. Take today, for instance. She comes waltzing into the room. "Good morning, class." Nobody answers, never does, not even me. I would, because I like her. Like and feel sorry for her all at the same time, because to be honest, we aren’t that great of a class. But even I didn’t answer her, because I’m kind of cool. Not real cool, like "lots of friends cool." I’m more like "loner cool." People don’t mess with me too much, because if they did, they’d get a face full of fist. I’m a wild card, so people leave me alone, let me fly under the radar screen, like a stealth bomber, and I don’t want to mess with that, so I don’t say hi, or good morning. I didn’t want to look like a goody two-shoes, and just shuffled my feet with the rest of the kids, like I was real bored or something. Even though I was actually kind of interested to see what she was going to come up with today.

Didn’t let on though, just mumbled a little bit of a good morning, that’s about all I could get away with, and to be honest, it’s pretty respectful, considering what some of the other kids do. I mean, at least I was sitting in my seat, not screwing around in the back of the class, throwing things, swaggering around, pants half falling off my ass, pretending not to see the teacher come in. At least I wasn’t doing that.

Now maybe I don’t say it loud and clear, in a TV sitcom voice, but at least I say something. At least I mumble "good morning," because it’s more than most people do.

Besides, it’s not honest to say "good morning," when for most of us, most of the time, it isn’t a very good morning at all. I’m not complaining, mornings are generally better than evenings. That’s usually when the shit hits the fan. In the morning, I’ve got the whole day stretching out before me, shimmering like a promise, like maybe today something fun’s going to happen, something good, something exciting. I like morning—the way it smells, the way it looks, like it just woke up and maybe today things are going to be okay.

But this custom of saying "good morning" every morning, well it’s just not truthful.

"The . . . Topic . . . is . . ." Mrs. Watson read each word out loud as she wrote it, "Love. . . ." When she’d finished writing the words out on the blackboard, she underlined them so emphatically that a little bit of powder fell, like a puff of smoke, from her stick of chalk.

Then she turned around and faced the class, and the expression on her face was almost like a dare. I like this about her, that she’s so into what she does. I look forward to it, because most teachers, they’re too tired to care anymore, too beaten down. I can see it in their faces sometimes, when all the kids are acting out, screwing around. I can see the weariness, see them wondering why the hell they took this job. Tired out, pissed off, going through the motions like they’re underwater swimming.

Sometimes, I get worried that Mrs. Watson’s going to get like that too, all tired out, sharp edged, and bitter. I try to be nice to her on the sly, so she won’t give up, lose hope, and think we’re all lost causes.

"The topic is love," she said again, just in case we didn’t hear her the first time, hear the whole thing properly.

"We’re going to try something new today: Free association. I want you to pick up your pen and write. Don’t worry about punctuation, or spelling, or telling a story. I want you to write what ever comes into your mind, what ever pops into your head, write it down. The topic is love. You have twenty minutes, start writing."

She turned to her desk, like that was all that needed to be said, but nobody was writing, we were all staring at her like she was a freak show. Because she’s come up with some weird assignments, but this one’s a doozy. And to be honest, I’m trying to encourage her and all, but even I had no idea what to do.

"Love . . . ," Billy Robinson mimicked in a mamsey-pamsey voice. He started gagging, and his cronies were snickering, and then it’s like his face all of a sudden gets mad, like Mrs. Watson assigned this exercise for the sole purpose of pissing him off. "What the hell kind of shit is that?"

"Exactly," Mrs. Watson said. She’s not scared of him, like some of the other teachers. She just beamed at him and nodded her head, like he’d been real insightful, like he wasn’t being a smart ass. Smiled at him like he was joining in for once, and she was taking his question seriously. "Exactly." Then she looked at the rest of the class, acting as if we were having a philosophical discussion. "What is love? What does it mean to you? How does love, or the lack thereof, manifest itself in your life?" She nodded encouragingly. "Just pick up your pen and write. There is no right or wrong in this exercise. As long as you have written something on your paper, you’ll get a good mark."

So I picked up my pen. She’s the teacher after all.

The topic is love, I wrote. I underlined it. And then, that was it. I just sat there, staring at those words at the top of my page, stuck, couldn’t think of anything to write.

"The topic is love," I said under my breath, testing the wor

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Gemma 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 54 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very graphic but did a great job of putting you in the story for both sides. Would have liked the ending to be different it is a cliff-hanger with no closure.
Obscure More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book and could not put it back down. I love Mrs. Tilly's writing style, and the way she invites the reader into the character's big and tiny thoughts. She truly captures the mentality of a 12 year old girl, and I love the way the way Gemma's voice is projected through the 1st person narration. A wonderful, quick must read.
TrufffleBerry More than 1 year ago
I read this book after I finished Lolita, I was expecting something mature with some violence. But this book was sooo much more. It was a fierce book that was amazing, I couldn't pout it down once I got done with the first couple of pages, after Buddy and Hazen met and Gemma got sold, my nose wouldn't come out of that book. The obsession Hazen has for Gemma is stunning, chilling, dark and passionate. I was amazed, I love the ending absolutely, I was at first thinking maybe a sequel would be nice, but then I thought "most books like this are best with a cliff hanger ending". Only read this book if you can stomach it, it's a violent book that jumps right into it.
WHATAREYOUREADING More than 1 year ago
Flamingnet More than 1 year ago
Gemma, a young girl of 12 years old, is abused by her mother's boyfriend, Buddy. Buddy sells her for one hundred dollars to Hazen Wood, a vicious and abusive person who kidnaps Gemma. Hazen embarks on a cross-country journey with Gemma in the trunk of the car with Boxcar Julie, her turtle and best friend. I enjoyed reading this book because of rich language and literature. This book is in two points of view, Hazen's and Gemma's. In Gemma's point of view, Hazen is crazy, obsessive, and abusive. In Hazen's point of view Gemma and Hazen are lovers, with Hazen's delusion of self-righteousness in kidnapping and repeatedly raping Gemma. Meg Tilly uses language and vivid depiction of certain events to aide her readers in using the mind's eye to hear, feel, and get a picture of Gemma's plight. Tilly achieved her purpose but left the reader to wonder what would happen next, but with the sense of not needing to know anything else for the story to be finished. In the way this book was written, I loved reading it. NOTE to parents: The nudity and mature content (sex, language) may make readers uncomfortable while reading the book. Reviewed by a young adult student reviewer Flamingnet Book Reviews Teen books reviewed by teen reviewers
rainpebble on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Meg Tilly is a very good writer. It always amazes me when an actress turns out to be that. I don't know why.She takes this book from past to present in the first person with an ease that just carries the reader along. The story itself is about a 12 year old girl who is abducted by her mother's boyfriend and sold to a pedophile who rapes her repeatedly.When she escapes he catches her and threatens her with the police for 'what she has done'. In the end she does get away, is found, there is a trial, she is cared for by a loving couple who know how to help her and the book ends with hope for a little girl, who has gone through hell and back, to be helped to find a whole or nearly whole life.I highly recommend this book and rated it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.
justablondemoment on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book rated up there with "A child called It". I was so moved by this story and the courage that Gemma had. The writing style was a little different from other books that cover this subject as most don't give us the perspective of the pedophiles side. I gotta say every time the book shifted to his view I wanted to reach through the book and commit a crime of my own. of the best books I have ever read...YES YES YES
tela1226 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'll admit, when I received this book and noticed it was written by an actress trying to be a writer, I was a bit skeptical. However, I was quickly converted to a fan of Meg Tilly's writing. This book touched me on a number of levels. First, as a mother of two young girls I was horrified by the events in Gemma's young life. Second, as a former school counselor, I was haunted by the possibility that something like this could be missed. Finally, as a human being, I was shaken to the core by the evil deeds perpetrated by Hazen Wood. Meg Tilly masterfully captures the voice of both a 12 year old girl and a 36 year old male pedophile. This book is hard to read due to its disturbing content, yet I was instantly engrossed and could not put it down. Very well done.
MochaSprinkle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was incredibly excited to receive this book but it was a bit difficult to read as it was so... vibrantly depicted! After the first few chapters I didn't think I would be able to finish, but I made myself. This is only a book and to think that there are things like this happening to poor girls in the world.. the least I could do was read it. This poor girl went through a lot and Ms. Tilly never lost sight or focus in her story; she never left any small detail vague. It's a dark but powerful story to tell and Ms. Tilly certainly did very well!
scd87 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found it difficult to get into this book at first because the subject matter is so disturbing. I started off reading just a few pages at a time and having to put down the book for a few days. I didn¿t feel like being depressed and uneasy around Christmas¿However, I would say the first half of the book is the worst, in terms of squeamish stuff. What makes you want to read the book is Gemma¿s attitude. I could not imagine being in her situation at all, but if I were, I don¿t think I¿d be able to handle it as well as she does. She certainly is amazing. There are a few things about the book that bothered me ¿ the constant reference to God, Gemma¿s voice (which sometimes seemed really hill billy-ish (if you know what I mean), and other times, she used impressive vocabulary that didn¿t seem to fit), and the predictability of the plot. I am happy to say that these things did not ruin the book for me. I still found it very interesting. This book is good for anyone who thinks they can handle the graphic nature of the book. The book not only goes into detail with the rape scenes, but also uses a lot of vulgar language. If you think you can handle it, I suggest you read this book because it is important to realise that this stuff actually happens (the author herself was abused by 4 different men). We can't forget/ignore that.
BinnieBee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow. Meg Tilly is a very good writer. The subject matter and the story were so intense, and the details really gruesome. But, I have to say that I want to read more of her books. I will probably avoid the young adult version of this story, but the other two books that she has written are on the top of my list now. I appreciate the honor of being given an early reviewers copy. I had no idea she was more than a great actress (in my opinion). But she really is a great writer, IMHO.
KatharineClifton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Haunting. Revulsive. Hopeful. Inciting. This book is not for the faint of heart. I like the character of Gemma (though I must admit to not particularly liking her name since I am never sure how to pronounce it and it sometimes tripped up the flow of my reading). I think the author did an amazing job of showing how such a young girl can have wild dichotomies of personality. Gemma has a sense of bravado, a coolness, an "above it all" ability to take her abuse without letting it destroy her. Yet she also has the sensibilities of a child, one who can be convinced by wicked adults that she is the one doing something wrong, that she might get in trouble, and her devoted attachment to her pet is heartbreaking. The scenes of abuse are graphic. I think in this case it was perhaps a necessary evil to show the depths of Hazen's depravity. However, I do think maybe there were more scenes, an overabundance of graphic details, than were necessary to tell the story. The author did a fine job of switching voices between the young girl and her abusers. And Gemma's mother...I hate her with a passion, but she was a well-drawn character. The whole thing, the knowledge that this is exactly the sort of thing that happens in the world, sickens me. enrages me, but I feel privileged to have been let in on Gemma's story. This one will affect the way I move in the world. From here on out I'll be paying closer attention, I won't be afraid to talk to little girls with haunted eyes. Maybe they need help, just like Gemma did, and I can't stand the thought of all those adults who just didn't notice her need...
smltheppl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is going haunt me for a long time. Gemma is such a strong and endearing character. You can't help but love her and hate Hazen for what he subjects her to. It's amazing that she can endure what she does and still never lose who she is. I loved that she didn't use her experience as an excuse, but strove to rise above it. The deptictions of abuse are very graphic, but I really didn't feel that they were gratuitous. I felt that they made you truly identify with her and understand exactly what she went through. If they had been glossed over, I don't think I would have had such a connection with Gemma or such an intense realization about what she actually went through.I would recommend this book to anyone, but would definitely warn them about the graphic nature.
smileydq on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It has been hard for me to write a review of this novel - I read it several months ago, and my visceral reaction to it remains strong, but I've had trouble putting that feeling into words. Gemma is a smart, tough, creative 12-year-old who we quickly learn has been regularly raped since age 8 by her mother's low-life boyfriend. At the beginning of the book he sells her for $100 to another child molester, Hazen Wood, who becomes obsessed and kidnaps Gemma, taking her on a cross-country abuse and torture spree. The story is told from alternating points-of-view, first Gemma then Hazen, which adds an element of raw truth to Tilly's well-written prose. Gemma's voice is quiet, shy - she survives solely on the basis of her vivid imagination; Hazen, meanwhile, is violent and obsessed, and sick too - he alternates between hurting Gemma and wanting to comfort her. The descriptions of Gemma's abuse are graphic and horrifying; the awful glimpses into the mind of her abuser are terrifying too. This book was hard to read, and impossible to put down. I give Tilly 5 stars, but caution the sensitive reader - the images depicted herein will not quickly fade.
CatieN on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Gemma is a 12-year-old girl, the daughter of a selfish alcoholic, who hasn't caught any breaks in life and things are about to get worse. Hazen Wood is a pedophile. The writer alternates between the voice of Gemma and the voice of Hazen giving the reader a complete and realistic view of the abusive relationship. Excellent writing with characters, even the minor ones, who jump off the page. Dark and disturbing story but well worth it in the end.
crazyjster on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was one of the more graphic, revolting, yet well written books that tells an all to familiar story about the reality of what is really goes in society. As someone who has worked as a child/adolescent therapist, and worked in the Juvenile Court system, Tilly did an excellent job capturing the mindset of both how some pedophiles operate and how the mindset of a twelve year old girl might operate. Being able to make the characters believable was key to making the story work. Though this was a work of fiction, it brings to light the reality that there are lots of ¿Gemma's¿ and ¿Hazen's¿ out there.
missysbooknook on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although I love Meg Tilly's style of writing, this book was very difficult for me to read. I had to put it down for days at a time before I could pick it back up again and continue. There is a lot of sexual abuse, and it's pretty graphic.Gemma's story is heart broke while reading it. I have read many other books with this same subject matter, but this one was different. It is not one that I will ever forget.
jbealy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Meg Tilly's Gemma is a hard book to read. The first hundred pages detail horrific sexual abuse of a 12 year old girl child, Gemma Sullivan, at the hands of her 37 year old pedophile kidnapper, Hazen Wood. Tilly alternates between the two voices, that of Gemma and that of Hazen, making the story personalized and all the harder to take. It is unrelenting. But just as I'm thinking I can't take any more, Gemma is rescued and we move into a new part of the story: healing, recovery, the "system", happy endings.As difficult as it was to read about Gemma's abuse, as much as I felt overwhelmed and helpless, I appreciated Tilly's frankness. Here's why. Rape and torture, kidnapping and abuse happen all the time to women and children all over the world. We hear about one case or another, sometimes we hear about them escaping. But we never hear the details of their day-to-day life with their abuser. Intellectually we understand what took place. We can imagine it. Barely. But it is so heinous, we move on. We really don't want to think about it. Tilly forces us to. That's important because maybe if enough of us looked at it, more could be done to stop it. Maybe.That all said, Gemma is a novel and as a novel I believe Tilly would have been more successful if she had taken more time with her writing. As difficult as it is for us to read, I'm sure it was more difficult for her to write. It is almost too raw. But I couldn't put the book down, even when I wanted to. And that says something.
Radella on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I find it hard to rate this book- the writing itself it excellent, switching between past and present almost as if you were talking with a twelve year old, and alternating perspectives. The characters are vivid, Meg Tilly really seems to understand both sides of the sexual abuse coin, with harrowing detail. The topic, however, was difficult to read. I found myself interested in seeing how Gemma would turn out and horrified thinking how often this happens to young children. Disgusted that people would actually do this to children, and that lawyers would work so hard to get them off. A good book, but difficult for its realty.
cpom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Gemma" is a very well written story about a 12 year old girl who is abducted and sexually abused. I found it very difficult to read at times due to the very graphic descriptions of the abuse, however I also found myself drawn in. The strength that Gemma showed and the glimmer of hope that there could be a positive outcome is what kept me reading.
laneave on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow. I finished this in less than 24 hours. The back cover compares Tilly to Alice Sebold. While Sebold is a wonderful writer, I think "Gemma" will stick with me much more permanently. Readers should definitely brace themselves for the graphic and heart-wrenching details about twelve year old Gemma and her molestor. But, too, they should get ready to be encouraged by so many beautiful aspects of the novel. I began to love Gemma from the very beginning. She is so imaginative and resilient. Really, there are lots of people to love in the story, right down to the woman who helps Gemma buy her pet turtle.Even though Haven, Gemma's captor, is completely despicable, I am grateful to Tilly for having the courage to let him out. He is more manipulative and irrational than I think I ever gave people like him credit for. And the way his voice comes through! His creepy third-person narrative is remarkable, especially compared to Gemma's authentic and hopeful voice. Thank you, Meg Tilly, for writing an unfortunately familiar story in such a different way.
plenilune on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An ultimately engrossing story that I found a bit difficult to get into initially, due primarily but not entirely to the graphic sexual abuse portrayed. I had assumed the setting was somewhere in the South, due to the way the characters were speaking, so I was surprised to learn it was California. Gemma's voice at times also didn't feel quite believable for a 12 year-old. But as the book went on, I found myself reading larger and larger chunks at a time, despite the difficult subject matter, because I just had to know what happened to everyone and had to find out if Gemma endured. I am by no means a squeamish person but even I had difficulty with some of the more graphic sexual scenes. While I feel they were necessary to convey the perversity of some of the characters (Hazen in particular) & never used solely for shock value, I would recommend with caution.
krissa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***A twelve year old girl named Gemma is abducted and physically and sexually abused by a family friend named Hazen. The first half of the book is very graphic and disturbing, and I had to put it down and walk away several times. And yet Gemma¿s character kept drawing me back. There is a sweetness that shows through in the character through all the horrible things she has to survive. She has a protective and maternal instinct that shows up time and again with her turtle and then with her mother. She shows a combination of maturity and responsibility, but mixed with a childhood innocence that is very believable. There is a kind of hope that shows through in Tilly¿s writing, that you know she is going to get away, and you have to keep reading to find out the when and how. Even the bad guy (Hazen), although very disturbing, is very well written. Half the book is from his point of view, and Tilly does a good job of showing his justifications. He says things like I had to lock her in the trunk and take her clothes, she kept trying to run away. or God said I should beat her, and teach her some respect. Then there is a shift that occurs about half way through. We meet Cindy. She provides a counterbalance character that is very honest, realistic in her view points, and real. You can tell she is coming from a perspective of understanding and love. I guess if there was a disappointing part of this book would be the non-ending. There was no neat wrap up, and it left me with tons of questions. But that is me. I like neatly tied up endings. This book was well done, and emotional to the last page. Gemma is a character that will be with me for a long time.***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
bratt67 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Though well written, I found the context very disturbing.
JennyG on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I give this book a solid three stars. I enjoyed Ms. Tilly's writing, including the switch between Gemma and Hazen as narrators, the novel was well-edited and tight, and the story was heart-wrenching and disturbing. While this isn't necessarily a novel that you like reading, a complaint I have that made me less enthusiastic about the ending of this book than others were is that one doesn't forfeit parental rights simply by leaving her child at a residential facility. Termination of rights is a long, drawn out process, so Cindy adopting Gemma wouldn't have been as quick and easy as deciding she's going to take her home. Other than that, a solid effort.