Almost immediately after Kevin Brooks won the Carnegie Medal for his book The Bunker Diary—a story about six people, one only 9 years old, who are kidnapped and trapped in an underground bunker by a brutally malicious, controlling, unseen villain—the criticism started. Amanda Craig at the Independent refused to review it back when it was first released, calling it “depressing both in its nature and its lack of redemption” and going so far as to proclaim that the win marks “the latest in a trajectory for the Carnegie prize which nobody who loves children’s books can possibly applaud.” Lorna Bradbury at the Telegraph went even further, by drawing a comparison between the abductor in the novel and the author himself: “we are left with the uncomfortable feeling that, like the prisoners, we have spent time being manipulated by a psychopath and pervert.”
I’m not going to get into the whole “YA: IS IT TOO DARK?” debate—did Craig and Bradbury’s outrage make them forget that we had this same conversation a mere three years ago? Instead, since we American readers won’t have access to The Bunker Diary until Spring 2015, I’m going to round up a few other stories about teens in captivity.
Tom McNeal’s fairy tale–inspired Far Far Away is the most recent and, situationally, the most similar: about a third of the way through, two of the main characters are abducted and tormented, physically and psychologically, by a man who they thought was their friend. It’s a harrowing, nail-biting, claustrophobic, nausea-inducing read—of the three, though, it comes the closest to having a happy ending—and I wish I could read it again for the first time.
Years before Ryan Reynolds got Buried, there was Gail Giles’ What Happened to Cass McBride?, in which a boy buries the titular character alive to avenge his dead brother. As they talk via breathing tube—Kyle trying to make Cass admit to complicity in David’s death, Cass trying to manipulate Kyle into releasing her—there’s no sudden shift into sympathy, the characters don’t go the Days of Our Lives route and fall in love, and while there are survivors, no one gets an entirely happy ending. It’s a tight, taut read from the first page to the last, and just thinking about it has me wanting to go back and re-read all of her other thrillers.
For years, I’ve cited Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl as the book at the top of my Most Personally Traumatizing Reads list, and now, six years after its publication, it still holds steady at Number One. It’s about a girl who’s been in the power of her captor for so long that he trusts her to go out into the city alone—he knows that his control is so complete that she’ll come back to him, and the depths of her anger and despair are such that she is willing to give him what he wants (a newer, younger girl) in order to escape him…even though that means she’ll be sacrificing an innocent person to gain her own freedom. Their relationship is utterly revolting—not just because of the sexual abuse, but because of the emotional and psychological manipulation—and sadly, easily believable. While Alice eventually finds escape—and redemption—don’t go into this one looking for a happy ending.
And then there are three that I haven’t read, but would like to: S. A. Bodeen’s The Compound (cannibalism and mental illness in a fallout shelter!), Norma Fox Mazer’s The Missing Girl (five sisters are stalked by a predatory adult; one of them is eventually kidnapped!), and Edward Bloor’s Taken (in a world where wealthy children are regularly kidnapped and ransomed, a girl begins to realize that her situation is different…!). So that’s PLENTY of kidnapping stories—some of which would undoubtedly be described as DEPRAVED and/or REVOLTING by Certain Other Critic—to keep me busy until I can get my hands on The Bunker Diary.
Feel free to recommend more in the comments!
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.