I’ve been sitting on this review for a few days because it is a very hard book to read, let alone talk about. Meg Tilly tells the story of Gemma, a twelve-year-old girl who is being raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Everything goes wrong when the boyfriend sells her for a night to his friend Hazen, a sexually-frustrated pedophile who becomes obsessed with Gemma and kidnaps her.
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 graphic scenes of physical and sexual violence, Hazen tries to destroy the young girl’s will. Gemma’s childlike resilience and fertile imagination protects her from the worst of the trauma she suffers. It is only the healing power of unconditional love that gives Gemma the courage to speak out against her abuser at last.
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.
From the publisher, St. Martin’s Press
This book was extremely difficult to read at times. As a young woman I wanted to shout and shake Gemma — to tell her she is worth more than she’s been raised to believe, to tell her she deserves better. Gemma’s voice came off very authentic, and as difficult as it was to read, I’m really glad I did.
It was also difficult to read Hazen’s thoughts about Gemma and his view of the world. He is so self-obsessed and a dirty pedophile. His part is written in what seems like third-person omniscient, but at times it felt like it was first person and he just liked to hear his own name instead of thinking “I” or “me”. I don’t know but it just came off extra creepy. Even Meg Tilly, has said how difficult it was to write: “I got to page fifteen and I thought that’s it, that’s it, that’s all I can do! I hate being in this guy’s skin! I don’t want to write a book from here, I just don’t.”
I love watching the show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit which is about sexually-based offenses… but reading this book from the point of view of the victim while being abused was something entirely new. Gemma has been likened to Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, but in truth, Meg Tilly wrote from a place she knew, as a victim of rape and physical abuse. When I learned this I was so proud of her for writing this book and so outraged at the same time. It’s really difficult for me to imagine and fathom. After I finished the book, I felt two things: I was overwhelmingly happy that Gemma came out the other side and also I realized was how fortunate I was not to have to go through anything like that.
Meg Tilly and her agent had a very difficult time finding a publisher for Gemma. Fortunately, the book has been picked up by St. Martin’s Press (an imprint of MacMillan in the states). Meg Tilly has said that everyone who read it felt that it was an important book to publish but many publishers didn’t think they could market it effectively.
NOTE: This book is not appropriate for anyone under the age of 15.
- Read an excerpt that features the voices of both Gemma and Hazen.
- Read an interview with Meg Tilly about Gemma on Bookslut.com
I received this book for review through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers.