Most people know of the story of Elizabeth Smart, a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes who, at 14 years old, was taken from her Salt Lake City bedroom in the middle of the night. However, no one really knows the story except for three people: Smart’s two kidnappers, Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee, and Smart herself. “My Story,” by the now 25-year-old Smart and Utah Congressman Chris Stewart, gives a chilling yet inspiring look at Smart’s courage and how she overcame the odds of surviving the kidnapping.
Both Mitchell and Barzee are currently serving time in prison for their roles in the crime, but neither have spoken much about the events that occurred over the haunting nine-month period. Because of this, the key to the story is in Smart’s hands. More than a decade after her rescue, Smart unlocks the memories she can never erase from her mind.
It all began on June 5, 2002, when Smart woke up in the middle of the night to the face of a strange man and a knife at her throat. Stricken with fear, Smart obeyed every order given to her by the man she would end up spending the next nine months of her life with. Mitchell explained to Smart that he was a prophet of God, and that the Lord had commanded him to make her his own — his way of justifying the kidnapping and his crimes.
Smart spent the months that followed with Mitchell and Barzee in both the mountains of Salt Lake City and the woods of Lakeside, Calif., but no matter where she was during her captivity, Smart’s daily routine was mostly the same.
“My life pretty much consisted of three things,” Smart wrote. “Getting raped, being forced to drink alcohol and sitting on a bucket in a clearing in the trees.”
Fearing Mitchell’s threats of murdering her family should she escape, Smart stayed in captivity until Mitchell and Barzee were caught and arrested by the Salt Lake City police.
Smart let readers in on exactly what she faced every single day during her imprisonment with extreme emotional detail. She explained how going days without food left her feeling vulnerable and weak “beyond misery and despair.” She explained how it felt to have her religious values stripped from her by alcohol. She explained how she felt trapped and would never be free, but she did not share every gruesome detail. That’s because she didn’t need to.
By sharing the pure emotions behind her story, like her constant fear, Smart made readers think about the person behind the story instead of just the story itself. She didn’t need to include every miniscule detail of her daily rapings or similar traumas. Her emotions regarding those painful moments told the story better than any play-by-play reenactment ever could. The power behind Smart’s story entrances readers and makes them feel like they were by Smart’s side for it all, from beginning to end.
Throughout the book, Smart emphasizes the importance of her faith and her survival. Shortly before she was kidnapped, her grandfather passed away. During the nine months of her captivity, she felt his presence there, like a guardian angel, and that helped her persevere. She makes it clear that though this experience turned her world upside down in many different ways, it never completely broke her. In most, if not all, of the chapters of the book, Smart makes references to her faith, adding more depth and a personal narrative to the media’s coverage of the kidnapping.
Aside from just recounting the facts, this approach gives the reader a closer look at Smart as a person, rather than the kidnapping she was involved in. By keeping her faith close to heart, she survived an experience that she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy. In her diary-like narrative, Smart exquisitely displays how people should not let one moment or experience dictate their entire lives, and that is what makes “My Story” a page turner.
Smart does a beautiful job at describing her worst moments and showing how she used them to move on and create a better life for herself. In 2002, Smart was shown to the public as a traumatized and fragile 14-year-old girl. Now in 2013, she’s back, and with “My Story” she proves that she is stronger than ever.