Michelle was a young single mother when she was kidnapped by a local school bus driver named Ariel Castro. For more than a decade afterward, she endured unimaginable torture at the hand of her abductor. In 2003 Amanda Berry joined her in captivity, followed by Gina DeJesus in 2004. Their escape on May 6, 2013, made headlines around the world.
Barely out of her own tumultuous childhood, Michelle was estranged from her family and fighting for custody of her young son when she disappeared. Local police believed she had run away, so they removed her from the missing persons lists fifteen months after she vanished. Castro tormented her with these facts, reminding her that no one was looking for her, that the outside world had forgotten her. But Michelle would not be broken.
As with many others who have read and reviewed this book, I am not giving this book a five star rating based on the quality of the book or even out of pity for this woman who suffered so much. I give it five stars because at the core of this book, Michelle Knight has found a way to turn her horrible story into a cautionary tale of why people should not quit looking for those who are lost. But more than that, she proves that despite going to the depths of hell, one can come out the other side and work towards something more. This makes her inspirational and though she may dislike being called a victim, she is a victim of circumstance (far beyond that of which we knew from her time at the hands of Ariel Castro) who proved she could rise above it and become a voice for those who have lost their voice.
The book begins in her childhood and sadly for Michelle, it was far from a good one. Her family struggles with money and in the end, her parents fail to protect her from someone living in their household. She’s molested from an early age on and struggles terribly in school. Due to bad hygiene and only three sets of clothes, she is never able to make any close friends and lives a fairly solitary life filled with sadness, despair and secrets.
The first ray of hope she receives, comes from the realization she is going to be a mother and with little resources, she does seem to do the very best she can to raise her son Joey. Unfortunately, when her mother’s boyfriend hurts the young boy, Michelle loses custody and begins to fight a steep uphill battle to get him back. One of which leaves her walking several miles just to appear for meetings and court hearings.
It is on one of these days, that she runs into Ariel Castro in a Family Dollar and he tricks her into what will be her eleven year prison sentence in hell. I am not squeamish about the details Michelle provides about her time in that house, but for someone who is, I would recommend not reading this part of the book if you are. I found her restraint in describing what happened to the others to be touching. After all, part of her story is theirs as well and she could have easily been more graphic and detailed. Instead she shows a sense of love and respect for Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus.
I was actually surprised by this fact, as it is well known she and the other two girls do not have much contact if any. Sadly, like many of us, I chalked it up to jealousy. I know that sounds catty and by no means was I believing Michelle was in the wrong should she have these emotions. After all, it’s well documented she was abused the longest and by far the worst of the three girls, she was beaten to abort each pregnancy she had and when she was rescued, there was no one waiting on the outside for her. While I’m still not convinced there aren’t hurt feelings, I do believe in her sincerity when she describes her feelings for both Amanda and Gina, as well as young Jocelyn.
I also have to respect her decision to not fight for her son. After being raised by an adoptive family for ten years, he was still too young to be able to maturely process the reality of what happened to his mother. I can only hope that as he approaches his 18th birthday, his adoptive parents take into consideration that he deserves to know the truth or at the very least, be reconnected with his mother. In a way, Castro didn’t just cost Michelle eleven years of her life, he cost her a lifetime with her son and no mother deserves that.
The story itself was written in a manner in which, you could truly see it was from Michelle’s point of view and though I despised seeing the words “the dude” (her name for Castro) so often, I can understand how using his name could be hard for her. There is only one real aspect of her story I found to be a bit fantastical and that is the point in which she becomes a drug runner. Call me a skeptic and heaven forbid, she might be telling the truth, it just seems like a highly exaggerated or false element that was added in. But I could be wrong and in the end, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is Michelle’s message for reporting things you think seem off about people. Especially in light of Castro’s own family admitting they found his behavior odd. After all, had just one person made it a point to say something, maybe they could have saved these girls from years of torture and terror.