Girl, Stolen by April Henry
Genre: Young Adult, Action/Adventure
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Summary: 16-year-old Cheyenne Wilder has been blind ever since the car accident that killed her mother three years ago. That already sucks a lot. And now she has pneumonia. She falls asleep in the car while her stepmom is in the pharmacy picking up a prescription for her, and a teenage car thief unknowingly drives off with her still in the back seat.
The thief, Griffin, takes her back to his father’s house/sketchy junkyard dealership and at first it seems like they might let her go. Then it comes out that Cheyenne is the daughter of the president of Nike. The accidental kidnapping becomes a real one, ransom included. Sick and blind, Cheyenne has only her wits and possible ally Griffin to help her escape.
I was really interested in the premise of this book. For one thing, Cheyenne has pneumonia.
Do you notice that protagonists are NEVER sick? They always happen to be conveniently healthy whenever the situation of the book occurs. But real life isn’t convenient. As someone who is sick pretty frequently, I was interested in how the author would express the physicality of being ill under the story’s circumstances.
And of course there’s the fact that Cheyenne is blind. I think characters with disabilities also don’t come up in literature very often, so that’s pretty cool. I’m also interested in how sensory detail is used in writing, so I was excited to see how the author would get through an entire book without being able to rely on visual description.
I was with it in the first chapter. Cheyenne asleep in the back of the car, she hears someone strange get in–she can tell from how the door closes that it’s not her stepmom. I was on board with this. The car starts to drive away, and she’s panicking, and then this guy who has taken the car threatens her, and it’s super exciting! What’s going to happen?? This girl can’t even see what’s going on! Who is this kidnapper and what does he want??
Then you turn the page to the next chapter, and the P.O.V. has changed. Now you’re seeing things from Griffin’s point of view, and I do mean seeing. One of the first things he does is give a visual description of Cheyenne. My response: COP-OUT. I was really looking forward to reading a book with a blind narrator and seeing how Henry would take on the challenges that creates. Instead, she decided to ignore the challenges and just have a second narrator who is sighted.
Maybe part of the problem is that I had some pretty high expectations, but this book delivered fairly continuous disappointments after that.
Another problem with the alternating points-of-view (Cheyenne and Griffin alternate chapters) is that any suspense created in any situation lasts about five seconds. In the first chapter I don’t know who Griffin is or whether or not he intended to kidnap Cheyenne or what he wants to do with her, because Cheyenne doesn’t know those things. Then almost immediately, I find out that Griffin is just some kid mixed up with the wrong people who doesn’t want to hurt anybody. Right off the bat, I know I can trust him. I think it would have been infinitely more interesting to read what Griffin says and does, and like Cheyenne only be able to guess at his real motivations.
And honestly, Griffin wasn’t interesting enough to merit his own chapters anyway.
(Speaking of uninteresting characters, Griffin’s father and his two goons were painfully cliché as bad guys. Most adults in the story were given little-to-no development.)
The book features 16-year-old characters, but except for a few violent scenes I would be more inclined to recommend this book to middle schoolers. The writing is very simplistic. Henry often out-right explains things to the reader instead of allowing you to infer them. There’s no nuance! No finesse! This also takes away from what otherwise might have been a suspenseful story.
Cheyenne’s pneumonia is almost always used as a plot device or added in as an afterthought rather than having any real presence in the story. For example, Cheyenne will go pages without mentioning feeling ill, and then a line might get thrown in about how she has a fever, which has no consequences. Or at one point during Cheyenne’s P.O.V., she listens to Griffin talk for a while then says, “Can’t you just let me sleep? I feel like I can’t stay awake.” Afterwards, in Griffin’s chapter, he says she appeared to be falling asleep the whole time. But in Cheyenne’s own chapter there was not one mention of feeling ill or sleepy. I got the sense that Henry thought of it afterwards, and didn’t bother to go back and adjust Cheyenne’s chapter.
Also, I’m sorry, but when you have pneumonia there is no way in hell you can sleep laying down, as Cheyenne frequently does. You would cough yourself to death. I credit Henry with doing research about the science and functionality of blindness, but she skimped out on the pneumonia research. I feel that she needed to realize Cheyenne’s illness more, or just take it out of the story altogether. I mean, a blind girl being kidnapped is already pretty interesting. I think the only reason Cheyenne had pneumonia was so that whenever she tried to hide from her kidnappers she would give herself away by coughing.
In general, I was not a huge fan of Henry’s writing. In particular, the way she worded some things really, really bothered me. For example, Cheyenne’s father was always referred to as “Nike’s president.” By everyone: newscasters, the kidnappers, Cheyenne. Who even says that?? Wouldn’t you say he’s “the president of Nike?” Or even “the president of Nike, Inc.” It’s not like “Nike’s President” is a title we throw around all the time in everyday conversation!
There were times when the action actually did make up for where the book was lacking. In my opinion, the best part is when Cheyenne beats Griffin in the head with a wrench and runs away from the house on her own. It was awful, because at this point we know most of Griffin’s back story and we know that he really is on Cheyenne’s side, but I was so happy to see something so spontaneous and desperate from Cheyenne. It would have been so much better if we didn’t know Griffin yet–discovering his true intentions after that would have been a much more dramatic reveal.
The book was too short to really develop the relationship between Cheyenne and Griffin properly. Cheyenne occasionally mentions that she needs to befriend him so that he’ll be on her side and protect her, but otherwise I have no idea why they started sharing secrets with each other. In the whole book I think the action needed to be slowed down, moment by moment, to really explore all of the complexities of the situation. Instead of being a book about two young people navigating their way through a peculiar and terrible situation, the focus of the book is the peculiar and terrible situation itself. Sorry, but that’s not nearly as interesting.
In addition, the ending was so pointlessly ambiguous I actually threw my Kindle down on the bed after I read it. It had no resonance with the rest of the story. I have no idea what message it was trying to convey. I can’t even make one up, and I’m an English major, so that should tell you something.
Honestly, I think the premise just occurred to the author one day (and it is a cool premise), but she was unwilling or unable to delve into it properly.
-Interesting insights about blindness/living as a blind person
-Some brief shining moments in the writing and story
-Sloppy, simplistic, or weird writing
-Missed opportunities to explore the story at a deeper/more complex level
Overall, I feel like this book was a very good first draft. I would love to read a heavily revised version in the future.