Book Review: My Story by Elizabeth Smart

elizabeth smart coverThis memoir is one that I’ve been wanting to read for a long time.  I remember when Elizabeth Smart was taken.  I remember the news, the fliers, the little buttons and the blue ribbons (though I only saw the blue ribbons on TV).  Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping was one of the few news reports, along with reports on the 9-11 attacks, that my family recorded on VHS.  We prayed for Elizabeth, we wished we could go on the search parties (with a mother with a full-time job and a father who was physically unable to go into the heat, and children too young to participate, all we could do was watch), we gulped up the news, devoured it, sat on the edge of our seats waiting, hoping, that Elizabeth would be found.

And me?  I was terrified. We lived what I’d always considered a world away from Salt Lake City, but once this happened it was right in my backyard.  I was only a year older than Elizabeth, with a similar family background, and I was young, naive, and already scared of strange men with leering glances.  And when Elizabeth was kidnapped?  I closed my bedroom window, even though our house was cooled only through a swamp cooler, I locked my bedroom door, and I mentally reminded myself of all the possible escape routes, all the knives, all the baseball bats in the house.  I stopped walking around alone at night, only ventured out in large groups with my friends, and lived–though not in constant fear–with the waking nightmare that I, too, might be kidnapped.

When Elizabeth was found, it was like nine months earlier, though with a completely different feeling.  My family was glued to the television set, watching the news constantly, eating up the few little photos that showed that, yes, Elizabeth Smart was home.  Yes, Elizabeth Smart was safe.  We watched with joy, with gratitude, with the extreme relief that comes with knowing that the scary man was behind bars.  I was still young, still naive, and because the news outlets hadn’t shared that Elizabeth was raped daily until years later, I believed that she had been spared that horror.  We watched the made-for-tv movie that showed just a small portion of Elizabeth’s trials and horrors, and I read a book called  In Plain Sight, which told several of the events of the investigation and Elizabeth’s journey.  I devoured the book, and the terror and fascination all came rushing back.

So what about this book?  Written by Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart, it tells Elizabeth’s version of events, in almost all of their frightening, disgusting details.  At least, enough that you’re grateful that Elizabeth didn’t tell you more.  It’s written with a sensitivity to those who might run across the book, so though you understand what happened, it’s “censored” so that you don’t have to experience it as Elizabeth did.

This book moves at a breakneck pace, an urgency that keeps you reading, feeling the shattered innocence that Elizabeth felt, the constant fear that was with her every day, and helps you understand why she didn’t run away, why she felt certain that Brian David Mitchell would fulfill his promise and kill her and her family if she ever so much as screamed for help when she heard voices calling for her.  Maybe it’s because all my own feelings of innocence and fear came crashing back, but this book was a true page-turner for me.  I devoured it, not with the fascination I felt with In Plain Sight, but from the eyes of a fourteen-year-old girl thrust into a place that no fourteen-year-old should ever have to go.

This book also held a surprise for me: the source of Elizabeth’s strength and the willingness to go on, to keep from being beaten down by her captors, to be brainwashed by Brian David Mitchell’s rambling’s about being a prophet who must “descend below all things” and must take her with him.  Elizabeth’s faith in God–a God who loved her and didn’t want these things to happen to her, who gave her strength and comfort–and love for her family strengthened her those nine long months of abuse.

I don’t think what happened to me was something that God intended.  He surely would not have wished the anguish and torment that I was about to go through upon anyone, especially upon a child.

But since that time, I have learned an important lesson.  Yes, God can make some good come from evil.  But even He, in all His majesty, won’t make the evil go away.  Men are free.  He won’t control them.  There is wickedness in this world.

Which left me with this: When faced with pain and evil, we have to make a choice.

We can choose to be taken by the evil.

Or we can try to embrace the good.

Elizabeth Smart has chosen to embrace the good.  In the end of the book, she goes through a brief description of how she healed, what she did after she was rescued, and some wise words from her mother:

“You just be happy, Elizabeth.  Just be happy.  If you go and feel sorry for yourself, or if you dwell on what has happened, if you hold on to your pain, that is allowing him to steal more of your life away.  So don’t you do that!  Don’t you let him! There is no way that he deserves that.  Not one more second of your life.  You keep every second for yourself.  You keep them and be happy.  God will take care of the rest.”

Elizabeth Smart has created the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, a program dedicated to helping child abductees and their recovery.  I’ve seen her on the news time and again, spreading awareness of child abduction, sexual slavery, and domestic abuse.  She has chosen to keep those seconds and be happy, and to help rescue others who have experienced horrors.

She is one of my heroes.


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