The Best YA Abduction Stories

Teens love the genre, as long as the abductees eventually escape

The best part of abduction stories is the hope that the abductees will eventually become survivors. Considering real-life events inspire so many of these stories, the horror of the abductees’ experiences–and the need for the relief when they get out from the clutches of their abductors–keep the pages turnings.

Perhaps the two biggest titles in this genre are the adult classics that are also appealing to young adults: terror master Stephen King’s Misery published in 1987 and 25 years later, Room, based on the 2010 best-selling book of the same name by Emma Donoghue. Fun fact: both film adaptations earned their respective stars, Kathy Bates and Brie Larson, Academy Awards.

An early young adult title this genre is perennial favorite Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney (1990). The novel is the first of the Janie Johnson series, which follows the abductee’s life through five novels, and spawned a 1995 television movie.

Abduction stories have seen a resurgence in the last decade. Here are 10 of the quickest page-turners in the genre.

Stolen, by Lucy Christopher (Scholastic Press) 2010

This Michael L. Printz Award and Carnegie Medal nominee is disturbing, not just because of the abduction of 16-year-old Gemma, but also because of the romantic relationship that develops between her and Ty, her abductor, 24-year-old. Ty has been stalking Gemma for years. While she is on vacation with her parents, he snatches her at the airport and takes her to the Australian Outback, where he has built them a home. Descriptions of Ty’s attractiveness and attentive nature illustrate that this is not your run-of-the-mill abductor, but someone who, in a different time and place, and with a different approach and mental state, might have had a real relationship with Gemma.

The Cellar, by Natasha Preston (Sourcebooks Fire) 2014

Author Natasha Preston’s profile has ramped up quickly with her thrillers, and The Cellar is her flagship novel on abduction. 16-year-old Summer has a great life with a loving family and her dedicated boyfriend Lewis. Despite all the attention she receives, she is somehow thrown into a van and wakes up in cellar with three other abducted women, all of whom are renamed with flower names. It’s not unlike Room, except that the abductor Colin/Clover is completely deranged. He considers this group of abductees his family and kills prostitutes to keep the families of the town safe from them ruining marriages. Plot holes aside, The Cellar is still a riveting and wrenching read.

Muted, by Tami Charles (Scholastic Press) 2021

Muted, by Tami Charles.

This novel in verse is based on author Tami Charles’ personal negative experiences in the music industry as a teenager, and the abuses of power, particularly toward women of color. 17-year-old Denver and her friends, Shak and Dali, want music producer Sean “Mercury” Ellis to hear their voices, and their determination pays off. Once inside Merc’s world, they realize there is no way out and no way to be in touch with their families. Each of the girls has a different family background and dynamic, which influences how they react to their situation with Merc. Denver’s point of view, directed in poems to her father, brings her wraps up her experience with a chilling conclusion.

Grown, by Tiffany D. Jackson (Katherine Tegen Books) 2020

Grown, by Tiffany D. Jackson.

More than 60 percent of Tiffany D. Jackson’s Grown mirrors Tami Charles’ Muted. The two novels also share true-to-life narratives the authors drew from their own lives. Seventeen-year-old Enchanted is an aspiring singer who meets superstar Korey Fields at an audition. Korey begins texting Enchanted and convinces her join him so he can make her a star. Enchanted hides these exchanges from her parents. Korey sucks her into his closed-off world where she’s on the receiving end of so much disgusting abuse of every variety: substance, sexual, physical, emotional, mental, that she doesn’t even know what is happening to her.

Pretend She’s Here, by Luanne Rice (Scholastic Press) 2019

Author Luanne Rice is excellent at fictionalizing a ripped-from-the-headlines story and making it tangible for readers. In this case, Emily’s best friend Lizzie died a year ago, and the pain is still very real for her and for Lizzie’s family. When they come for a visit, Lizzie’s mother kidnaps Emily, holds her prisoner in their family home’s basement, drugs her, and proceeds to turn Emily into Lizzie. She dyes her hair, puts in colored contact lenses, dresses her in Lizzie’s clothes, none of which works. Emily was very close to Lizzie’s mother during her friendship with Lizzie, and having these kinds of unhinged interactions with her are all the more upsetting because of it.

Living Dead Girl, by Elizabeth Scott (Simon Pulse) 2008

Ray abducted “Alice” when she was 10. A pedophile, Ray kept her underfed to maintain her childlike appearance and posed as her father. This is his pattern, as, before Alice, Ray killed his previous victim when she turned 15. When Living Dead Girl starts, Alice is turning 15 and Ray wants to replace her with another 10-year-old. He tasks Alice with recruiting his next victim. In exchange, he will release her. The degree to which Alice has become dead inside, hence the title, becomes apparent when she is narrowing down which girl to target, and the lengths she goes to in order to be freed.

Ruthless, by Carolyn Lee Adams (Simon Pulse) 2015

Ruthless is the nickname of 17-year-old Ruth, and a descriptor of her personality. She is abducted and taken to the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she narrowly escapes her abductor, “Wolfman.” He intends to kill her, as punishment, like he has six others before her. Once she is out of Wolfman’s captivity, Ruth has to survive the wilderness she finds herself in. Ruthless alternates between first person from Ruth’s perspective and third person flashbacks which give insight into hers and Wolfman’s pasts, illuminating why they are the way they are when the reader meets them. A thrilling survival story.

Long Live the Queen, by Ellen Emerson White (Feiwel & Friends) 2008

Originally published in the 1980s, the third book in The President’s Daughter series has been reissued a number of times, most recently in 2008 and again in 2016 in Kindle format, a testament to the book’s evergreen narrative. Meghan is the offspring of the president of the United States, her mother. Meghan’s relationship with her parents is shaky, at best. It is her familial connection that is the reason for her abduction by terrorists. Starved and tortured, Meghan’s abductors are planning on killing her, and her plan is to survive. The subsequent novel in this series, Long May She Reign, serves as a part two, as it were, to this story.

Panic, by Sharon M. Draper (Atheneum Books) 2013

Author Sharon M. Draper has a wonderful way of telling stories that reflect a genuine experience. Panic is no exception. High schooler Diamond has a solid group of friends at her dance academy. It’s this very group that sounds the alarm when Diamond disappears during a trip to the mall. Draper tells the story of Diamond’s abduction by a sexual predator  through the alternating voices of Diamond and three of her dancer friends, who are dealing with their own experiences, at the same time as they’re searching for her. The real draw is Diamond’s horrifying time with the sexual predator that has abducted her, which Draper unfolds in her signature honest but sensitive style.

A Stolen Life, by Jaycee Dugard (Simon Schuster) 2011

The memoir of true crime survivor Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life describes her abduction from a bus stop at the age of 11, her imprisonment for the next 18 years, her sexual and physical abuse and the psychological manipulation she experienced. During the time she was kidnapped, Jaycee gave birth to two children, which changed her attitude toward survival. As is the case with long-term victims, Jaycee grew accustomed to her life as it was, and was too scared to save herself even when it was possible. Straightforward and unflinching, the fact that this is a true story makes A Stolen Life that much more harrowing of a read.

Other true abduction stories worth checking out: The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman (2018), The Taking of Jemima Boone: The True Story of the Kidnap and Rescue That Shaped America by Matthew Pearl (2021), American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin (2016), or, even better, the 1988 first person account, Patty Hearst: Her Own Story by the OG herself, Patricia Campbell Hearst.

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Lily Moayeri

Lily Moayeri has been a freelance journalist since 1992. She has contributed to numerous publications including Variety, Spin, GRAMMY, Billboard, NPR, Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, A.V. Club, and more. Lily hosts the Pictures of Lily Podcast, a monthly podcast about her interviewing experiences. She has participated as moderator and panelist at numerous music conferences. She has also served as an educator since 2004, focusing on guiding students in navigating the intersection of technology and education in her role as a teacher librarian with LAUSD.

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