First look: Elizabeth Gilpin's Stolen is a harrowing indictment of therapeutic boarding schools

Seija Rankin
·6 min read

Alberto Vasari; Grand Central Publishing Elizabeth Gilpin is the author of 'Stolen: A Memoir'

The author of the hotly anticipated summer memoir Stolen was, during high school, an honor student and a star athlete, with a case of depression that was slowly starting to affect her outward success. One night, she was taken from her bed and dropped off in the woods in the middle of nowhere — all under the recommendation of professional consultants. Elizabeth Gilpin found herself at a so-called "therapeutic boarding school," a facility that was meant to rehab troubled teens but, in practice, was basically a prison for kids. Her book details the nightmarish conditions and abusive treatment she endured, and how she rebuilt her life in the years following her release from the school.

Stolen will hit shelves July 20, but EW has an exclusive first look inside its pages below.

Excerpt from Stolen, by Elizabeth Gilpin

Sometimes I think I was born afraid of the dark. Hall lights, bedside lamps, a flashlight hidden beneath the covers—nothing made me feel safe in the middle of the night. The setting sun filled me with dread, and twilight came with an impossible choice. Waking life and dreaming life were both unbearable at night. I was afraid of my own shadowy thoughts and even more terrified of the faceless man who haunted me in my nightmares.

Inside my picture-perfect brick house on my quiet Southern street, where the hand-striped walls matched the custom-tailored curtains, was my pink room. It was perfectly appointed, the sheets and pillowcases monogrammed with my initials: E.L.G., written in cursive. I would lie in my bed night after night, paralyzed with fear but too embarrassed to admit it.

I had been right to fear the dark. The faceless man came for me after all, only in real life he had a faceless partner. They kidnapped me from my own home in the middle of the night, and no one stood in their way.

At fifteen, I was angry and defiant, in trouble more often than not. so my parents hired the man from my nightmares to take me away.

This is what I remember from the night my whole life changed:

First, there's light. Bright and blinding, it shoots fear through my body before my brain knows how to react. My vision is fuzzy and there are shadowy faces leaning over me. I blink. Two strangers come into focus, and their hands clasp around my wrists and ankles, holding me down. My brain is hazy, hungover. I can't move, and I'm terrified.

"What's happening?" I say. "Who are you?"

The strangers in my room are adults. A man and a woman, large and dressed in black. I'm wearing powder-blue pajama pants and an enormous white T-shirt bearing the logo of a youth tennis camp. I'm fifteen years old and my nightmare is coming true.

"Let's go." The man is pulling me from bed.

"No." I kick my legs wildly.

"I'm not asking."

I realize that I'm screaming. That I've been screaming this whole time. The shock has made me inarticulate and wild, my voice like an animal's. I focus and call out for help. Again and again I scream for someone to come save me. The strangers don't try to stop me. They understand it doesn't really matter.

"Your parents know we're here," the woman says. "And you're coming with us."

"F--k that."

She grabs my shoulders and yanks me from the bed. I reach for a pillow to fend her off.

"Where are you taking me?"

I'm on my feet now, still trying to wrestle away from my kidnappers. I'm not wearing shoes. I need to pee.

"There are plenty of bathrooms on the road," the woman says in response.

The man tightens his grip as he drags me out into the hall. I understand now why my mom chose this weekend to take my brother and sister out of town. How long has she been planning this? Did she have "Elizabeth gets kidnapped" written down in her calendar?

"Ow." Beefy fingers dig into my flesh. "You're hurting me."

The strangers march me down the long corridor, past studio portraits of three well-groomed, blond children. With manufactured smiles, we could have been in the stock photo that came with the frame. I see another figure looming in the shadows, right by the front door. It's my father. He's in his pajamas, standing tall and calm with his arms folded across his chest.

Has he slept? Did he brush his teeth and get into bed? Did he set an alarm for the arrival of his daughter's kidnappers?

I look at him now, my eyes wet and pleading. I want him to intervene, to tell my abductors there's been some kind of misunderstanding.

It's okay, my daddy is just trying to scare me.

And it's working. I'm terrified, desperate to stop whatever has just been set in motion. "Why are you doing this to me?" I ask when I reach the door.

My father says nothing. He just stares at me with unblinking eyes. If those irises contain any emotion at all, it's resolve. His mind is made up: This is what I deserve.

Finally he mouths a single phrase: I'm sorry.

And that's it. The strangers drag me through the front door. A black SUV is parked in the driveway, taking up the spot normally occupied by my mom's car. I tumble into the backseat and pound on the reinforced window. I scream and flail as the car pulls out of the driveway and takes me away, forever.

I don't know it then, but I will never set foot in that house again. As the SUV logs mile after mile on the highways of South Carolina, I sit so silent and angry that the female escort joins me in the back, afraid of what I might do. I feel all hope slip away as we cross the state line and head toward the mountains.

There is another nightmare waiting for me deep inside the woods of Appalachia, a mean and twisted version of reality. And something unimaginable after that. I lost control of my own life the moment those strangers pulled me from my bed, and it would be many years before I'd get it back.

Excerpted from STOLEN: A Memoir by Elizabeth Gilpin. Copyright © 2021 by Elizabeth Gilpin. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

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