A non-descript white house sits on the side of a street in Cleveland, Ohio. Cars drive by, neighbors chat on the sidewalk, and the sun beats down on the black pavement — the world is moving. However, inside this house three girls lie chained to beds, longing to feel the sun on their faces or talk to anyone other than each other. The girls have long since tired of screaming for help; they know no one can hear their screams — no one but him…
Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus with Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, in their memoir, Hope, brilliantly reveal a story of resilience, courage, and desperation, appealing to young adult readers with their brutal honesty and message of hope in troubling times. Berry and DeJesus use personal recollections and Berry’s diary entries to tell the story of their captivity, along with a third girl, Michelle Knight, inside Ariel Castro’s home at 2207 Seymour Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio (Berry, DeJesus, Jordan, & Sullivan, 2015, p. v). Knight’s story is less illuminated in the memoir as her experience was quite different. Berry and DeJesus respect her wish “to tell her story by herself” (p. v). However, Berry and DeJesus do not hold back in their recollections, describing the most horrific details of their captivity to readers.
On April 21, 2003, Ariel Castro, a school bus driver, father, and well-known man in the Cleveland community, kidnaps Amanda Berry the day before her seventeenth birthday. Almost a year later, on April 2, 2004, Castro kidnaps Gina DeJesus at age fourteen (Berry, DeJesus, Jordan & Sullivan, 2015, illustration facing p. 114). On May 6, 2013 Berry calls 911 and puts an end to ten years in hell (p. 244). On September 3, 2013, Castro hangs himself in his jail cell; however, the impact of his actions will never die (p. vii). While the facts alone are horrifying and shocking, the story in between is what draws the attention of the nation and now draws the attention of readers to Berry and DeJesus.
Castro is a controlling and clever captor. Castro allows the girls to watch TV. He loves sitting next to the girls as they watch their parents on TV; their parents search frantically for them when they are just a few blocks away. During the day, Castro keeps a radio blaring while at work so no one hears their cries for help. Additionally, the girls are chained to their beds. In between raping the girls, he has them do his laundry and his cooking. At times, he provides them with little items they request — a journal, a Christmas tree, magazines. Before returning books he rents them from the library, he meticulously checks each page to ensure there are not notes asking for help. The girls only go outside a handful of times; each time, they wear disguises. And, each time, Castro is right next to them, blocking any possibility of escape. Castro is all the life they have; he dictates their every move.
The inner workings of Berry’s and DeJesus’ deepest thoughts shape their memoir. Often, they wish for death; however, they are determined to push through for their families’ sakes. Gina spends much of her time inside Castro’s home suffering from depression; she barely moves and resorts to cutting herself. Castro happily takes Gina’s virginity. He brings her a glass of wine afterward, telling her she will never forget him now — as if any of the girls will ever forget him. Berry is more positive. She is well aware that a hopeful attitude will keep her alive. However, when Castro viciously chops off Berry’s hair in anger, it’s Gina that has to give Berry back hope, cutting her own hair off to spite Castro.
Life brightens somewhat after Castro allows Berry to carry and birth her child. Berry and Castro’s daughter, Jocelyn, is innocent and beautiful. Berry does her best to shield her from the horrors of 2207 Seymour Avenue. Jocelyn is never chained to a bed. Castro takes her out in the world many times, claiming she is his girlfriend’s daughter. As she grows older, Jocelyn begins to ask more questions, wondering why the three women she has come to love are chained to beds and are not allowed outside with her.
The details of Castro’s past in the memoir explain, but in no way justify, Castro’s cruel actions. As a child, Castro was molested by another young boy; Castro’s parents verbally and physically abused him. Castro blames his sex addiction as an adult on his molestation and familial abuse as a child. As a young man, Castro beat his now ex-wife, Nilda, so terribly that she suffered brain trauma; he kept Nilda locked inside their home while he went to work. Similarly, after abducting Berry and DeJesus, he keeps them chained much of the time and rapes them multiple times a day. At one point, DeJesus and Knight share a bedroom and bed; he rapes one girl with the other chained right next to her. He forces the girls to say they want him, being more violent and rough with them during intercourse if they refuse to say such lies. Castro’s violent actions and disturbing personality do not end there.
Castro is a master manipulator. He pits Berry, DeJesus, and Knight against one another, telling them lies about what the others have said. He plays favorites; Castro gives one of the girls better food and lets her walk around without chains more often than the other two girls. He does not want the girls to be friends or allies; then he will lose his power and possibly lose the girls. Likewise, Castro manipulates his children. He lies to the courts and his family about his treatment of Nilda, trying to maintain the role of a loving, devoted father. When his children visit his home during the ten-year period of Berry, DeJesus, and Knight’s captivity, he makes excuses for why his children cannot go upstairs to where the girls’ bedrooms are. Additionally, Castro manipulates the members of his community. Castro is friends with DeJesus’ father, Felix. Castro talks to DeJesus’ parents about their missing child, takes their flyers, and promises to be on the lookout for her. Castro is friendly with his neighbors while housing kidnapped girls inside of his home. Castro puts on a show for everyone, even himself. After his arrest for the kidnapping, Castro still maintains that while he is ill and a sexual predator, the girls want to have sex with him. He also maintains that he is a wonderful father to his daughter, Jocelyn.
Berry and DeJesus write that their story is about more than “rape and chains, lies and misery” (Berry, DeJesus, Jordan, & Sullivan, 2015, p. v). Their story is about “overcoming all that” (p. v). Berry and DeJesus relive their nightmares to give readers hope in the face of tragedy. Perhaps a reader is dealing with a tragedy that is seemingly insignificant compared to Berry and DeJesus’ story; however, no matter what the tragedy is, hope is what is needed to get one through. Berry and DeJesus write, “Now we want the world to know: We survived, we are free, we love life. We were stronger than Ariel Castro” (p. v). Readers can gain empowerment from those words; regardless of the tragedy, readers are stronger.
Berry and DeJesus write their memoir to young adults struggling with all the pressures of growing up. Their message is to have hope through it all; hope that the situation will get better; hope that happiness is within reach. Berry and DeJesus enter Castro’s home as teenagers and come out as young women; their young adult years are ripped from them. Berry and DeJesus also write to tell their young adult audience to cherish those that love them. While trapped, Berry and DeJsus long for their families. Berry’s mother dies while Berry is trapped; she never has the chance to say goodbye. Berry and DeJesus do not hold back in the details they reveal to readers; they are raw and exposed, detailing their darkest thoughts and most humiliating moments. Berry and DeJesus’ message of hope can be trusted because readers are fully immersed in the girls’ most trying time.
Hope answers all questions readers could have, telling the story of the girls’ kidnapping in an effective manner. When told from Berry’s and DeJesus’ points of view, the book is written as journal entries. However, readers see the points of view of not only the two girls, but of the girls’ families, of law enforcement, and of the media. Readers are shown the ten years of captivity from every angle. The leads in the case are described, the worries of the girls’ families are detailed, and Castro’s thoughts and history are explained. Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, the two Washington Post journalists who helped Berry and DeJesus write their memoir, organize Berry and DeJesus’ story in a way that is appealing and all encompassing.
I would recommend Hope to anyone in their teenage years or beyond — family member, friend, professor or coworker. While Berry’s and DeJesus’ points of view and message lend to a young adult audience, any reader can use their message of hope in hard times. Plus, the girls’ utter bravery and Castro’s sadistic actions are too compelling not to draw in a reader; it is almost too gripping of a story to be true.
Hope has taught me to be grateful. I can freely walk out my door, breathe in fresh air, and look up at the open sky. I can talk to my family members whenever I please. I can choose when and what I eat. All the while, I do not have visions of a dark past haunting my thoughts. Berry and DeJesus are now able to enjoy what they could not for so long; however, their lives are forever marked. If they made it through ten years of terror, and continue to make it through each day, then I can make it through days when I have hours of homework, work in the evening, and an early class the next day. Because, after all, I still have my freedom.
Berry, A., DeJesus, G., Jordan, M., & Sullivan, K. (2015). Hope: A memoir of survival in Cleveland. New York: Viking Books.