01 April 2010

Gemma by Meg Tilly

Description from Amazon.com: "After Hazen Wood kidnaps 12 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. It is only Gemma's childlike resilience and fertile imagination that protect her from the worst of the abuse she suffers. And in the end, the healing power of unconditional love gives Gemma the courage to speak out against her abuser at last--reclaiming her dignity as a human being."

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.