The Life of Bon: Bon's Book Club: My Story by Elizabeth Smart

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bon's Book Club: My Story by Elizabeth Smart


Every month we read a book.  On the selected day, we talk about it. (Generally the last Thursday of the month).  I will do my darndest to post questions ahead of time so that you can be thinking of possible discussion topics as you read.

Join in for whatever books you can.  I know you are all busy, and you might not be able to read all the books. (Or be interested in reading all the books!)  Read what you want and comment on what you want.  Some readers write their own review on their blog and then link up to it, others just write their thoughts in the comments- it's up to you!  If you write your own post and link up, please slap the image above on your post! Grazi!


+ What made you feel connected (or disconnected) to Elizabeth throughout the story?
+ What was something that amazed/ shocked you when reading her story?
+ Was the writing style an issue for you?  Why or why not? 
+ What was most impressive to you about Elizabeth's story?

My co-host and partner in crime this month is April from Hansen Love.   Here are her thoughts:

Where to start about this book? 

Amazing! Inspiring! Uplifting!

Everyone who is anyone knows the story of Elizabeth Smart. How she was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah when she was 14 years old. Her captors, Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, took her to live up in the mountains not far from her home. Mitchell believed that he was some modern day prophet that was sent to come and marry 7 virgins and save humanity. 

Sadly Elizabeth was one of those that Mitchell believed was sent to be one of his wives. 

Mitchell and Barzee, many many  moons ago 

Mitchell and Barzee during Elizabeth's trial.

This book was a little bit of a shock to me. Growing up and living in Utah, even though I was younger, I remember hearing about what she went through after she was found. I read the news stories that were told during the trials for Mitchell and Barzee and I was shocked even more while reading this book to hear Elizabeth's everyday life with these two. 

 I loved the voice that was used for telling Elizabeth's story. She did a fantastic job of recounting what happened with using just enough emotion to pull you in but not too much that you think that she is whining and complaining. Don't get me wrong she has every right to whine and complain especially after everything she went through, but she did an excellent job. I felt like I was there watching the whole thing. 

There were times while I was reading that I would have to remember that she was rescued and she is okay! I would come home on my lunch and pick up where I left off. She would be talking about how she went days without food, and here I was munching down on my PB&J laying on my couch and I felt bad that I had all of this and she didn't have anything! It really reminded me that there are others out there that don't have anything. 

The thing that amazed me about reading the book is that after everything that happened, you would expect Elizabeth to be ruined. But she has gone on and become a motivational speaker and has her own foundation that helps prevent crimes against children. She has taken this absolutely horrible situation that she was placed in at such a young age and turned it around and made it something amazing. Her mothers advice is absolutely perfect:

“You 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 (Mitchell) 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.”

Thanks April!  And, of course, I couldn't resist adding my two (or two hundred) cents...

First things first- the book is not well written.  At times I felt like Elizabeth was almost emotionally detached while telling the story.  It felt like I was reading a newspaper account of the events.  I suppose this might be how she has to deal with everything that happened, but it did feel odd that I didn't feel more of emotional reaction from her while reading the book.  At times the writing was even a bit painful for me because it was so bad.  It was frustrating to me that for a story of this intensity and with this amount of interest, better efforts weren't made to find a really good ghost writer- or at the least an amazing editor.  HOWEVER, the story was fascinating enough to me that I ended up being able to turn off the part of my head that cares about writing quality and just focus on the story.  Still, a better writer would have really made this book more enjoyable, and I believe, made the message of hope and forgiveness from the book even more powerful.

+ I was shocked to read that Brian David Mitchell tried two other times to kidnap a young girl to take for his wife- like he had Elizabeth.  One of these items he tried to kidnap Elizabeth's own cousin.  Both times he failed- when trying to kidnap Elizabeth's cousin something fell over in the house and crashed which led him to run.  Mitchell required that all his victims be young (easily manipulated) and Mormon (inexperienced and innocent.)

+ I was very interested in the way Elizabeth talked about Mitchell. She says several times that Mitchell was a master manipulator.  He was not insane, as he pleaded during the trial, nor did he sincerely believe that he was doing God's errand by kidnapping these girls as he claimed- he was just using religion and insanity as tools to manipulate and control others.

+ Reading about the abuse that Elizabeth went through was heart wrenching. She was raped nearly every day, tied up like an animal, forced to go naked in the camp, forced to pee and poo in front of Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee.  She went without food and water, was forced to drink alcohol until she threw up and passed out, etc.  (Smart, at 14 years old, woke up in her own vomit from drinking too much alcohol.)   I had known all of this, but hearing the day by day experiences from Elizabeth's own mouth made it all much more real.  I also wonder if reading this after having my own daughter made me more sensitive, but it was a very emotionally taxing book to read.

Elizabeth Smart at the time of her kidnapping- this picture was posted all over Utah.

+ Something interesting that I didn't know is that Mitchell would say prayers for sometimes and hour or more and force them to all kneel on the hard ground the entire time.  In his prayers he would praise himself and thank God following him to be chosen and all this other garbage.  It was infuriating to me to see somebody use something as good as God and prayer to carry out such evil and twisted purposes. I know it happens all the time, but again, to see it so close up like that made it hit home much more to me.

+ I think the most frustrating part of the book was reading about all the opportunities that Elizabeth had to escape. There were several times that they were out in public and Elizabeth did nothing to escape.  She felt no feelings of love or compassion for her captors like some have speculated, just that she was absolutely terrified. She was always covered head to toe so people couldn't see her, but I just couldn't believe that in a huge crowd she wouldn't yell out or try to leave. The most mind boggling was the story she recounts of being in a public library and being approached by a police man.  The police came and point blank asked Elizabeth if she was Elizabeth Smart.  She was covered so he couldn't see her face. Elizabeth didn't say who she was. Instead Mitchell jumped in, claiming that Elizabeth couldn't uncover her face or speak because it was against their religion. (Again, using religion to manipulate.) The officer didn't persist, and Mitchell left the library with Elizabeth safely in tow. It was so so frustrating that she didn't say anything in that moment.  She explains why she didn't, saying that she was only fourteen years old and she was terrified. Mitchell had threatened her that if she said anything or did anything to aid in her capture that he would kill her whole family.  Even if he was in jail he said that he had friends that would kill Elizabeth's family.  Adults have a better perception of reality and understand that a man wouldn't really send friends to kill your whole family while in jail (or that a man like Mitchell wouldn't even have "friends" to do this for him), but a fourteen year old wouldn't be able to quite grasp that.  Especially a fourteen year old like Elizabeth who was very sheltered and naive.  Also, I think the fear kind of took on a life of its own.  Elizabeth mentioned many times how paralyzing it was.  I think most of us have never been in a situation when we are faced with extreme fear like that, but my guess is that logic kind of goes out the window at that point and you just do what you can to survive.

A picture of Elizabeth at a rave the summer she was captured.  She is on the left, whispering to Wanda Barzee.  So sad that she didn't say anything to anyone!  (Also, that man's hair is on fire!)

+ Something else that surprised me as I read was how much I hated Wanda Barzee.  I knew I hated Brian David Mitchell, the man who kidnapped Elizabeth, but as I read I found that I hated Barzee just as much.  Even though she didn't carry out the plans, she sat and watched it happen, and to me that is just as bad.  She is a mother (I believe she has six kids?) herself, and to sit there and let a fourteen year old girl be abused and raped like that and do nothing to stop it is inexcusable.  I was filled with so much disgust for both Mitchell and Barzee.

Throughout the entire book, Elizabeth has an incredible attitude.  She prays and thanks God for her family, and is able to remain mentally and spiritually strong throughout the experience.  It was incredible to see her strength and tenacity.  She was kidnapped in June and she explains her Thanksgiving day with her captors.  She says that on that day she makes a mental list of everything she has to be grateful for- after five months of being abused and raped and starved.  I was also impressed with Elizabeth's attitude after she returned home- the quote that April mentioned stuck out to me as well.  She was able to forgive her captors and move on, not letting them take any more of her life or her experiences away from her.

At one point in the book Elizabeth says something like "I am 25 years old.  That means I have lived 300 months.  Nine of those months were pretty horrible.  But the other 291 have been great and I have been extremely blessed.  So how can I focus on the nine bad months when the other months were so good?"  Pretty amazing attitude, right there.

Now, thirteen years later, Elizabeth seems to have healed and recovered.  She has served an 18 month mission in Paris for the LDS church, has graduated from college, and has married.  She also speaks out as an activist on behalf of kidnapping survivors and child victims of violence and sexual abuse.

Elizabeth now- 27 years old.

Alright, that book review got way too long.  I apologize- the whole story is just so fascinating to me.  I can't wait to hear your thoughts!  Leave your thoughts below or if you wrote your own post make sure to link up!

And don't forget to join in next month!  We are reading Amy Poehler's Yes, Please and will discuss the book on Thursday, March 26.

No comments:

Post a Comment