Stewart worked with Smart for about two years, interviewing her, visiting the sites where she was held and cataloguing her experiences during her nine months in captivity. The book’s production was finalized during Stewart’s first few months in office.
This was before Stewart had made any decision on running for the House; he finalized the book’s production during his first few months in office. “I had no idea that I would find myself in Congress at this time,” he said. “It never occurred to me.”
Smart’s abduction was thoroughly covered in the news during 2002 and 2003; her parents, Ed and Lois Smart, released their own book in late 2003, “Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope,” and MSNBC aired the hour-long “Taken: The Elizabeth Smart Story” in 2010.
But this book is the first time Smart’s side of the story has been told beyond her testimony at the trial of her captor, Brian David Mitchell. Stewart sought to preserve Smart’s voice throughout the book, a process that he says came relatively easily.
A swift read, “My Story” is simple in its prose and maintains the voice, thoughts and emotions of a 14-year-old Smart. But Stewart made certain to include the big-picture chapters that Smart, now heading up the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, surely wanted to express.
There is a chapter devoted to expunging any fault of her younger sister, who was sleeping in the room the night of Smart’s abduction and was too terrified to tell their parents about the man who crept in that evening. There are sections dedicated to Smart’s emotional and spiritual battle with the almost daily sexual abuse she experienced. The book doesn’t expose many graphic details of the abuse, but rather focuses on Smart’s mental battles to overcome it.
Overall, “My Story” is a chronological piece and gives readers details of the day-to-day struggles and experiences Smart faced, from being chained to a campsite to constant struggles for food and water.
“The real story can only be told by those of us who were there,” Smart says in the book. “I am the one who lived through nine months of hell. I am the one who was forced to lie beside Mitchell every night.”
The book holds a vivid sense of place in Salt Lake City. From the descriptions of the canyons and mountains that encircle the city to the illumination of the downtown district at night, all is done from the viewpoint of someone intimate with the landscape. Smart indeed coerced her capturers to return to Utah after they traveled to California, hoping that being closer to home would aid in her rescue; she was proven right.
Stewart, who says he is focused on committee work and the nuances of homeland security policies and environmental regulations, says the book wasn’t written with a D.C. audience in mind. He said he and Smart have loosely discussed legislative means to advance goals of her foundation, which aims to stop the victimization of and crimes against children. But he notes that the themes from the book are meant to inspire all, amid the “craziness” in Congress.
“[Smart] has a real realistic sense of what happened to her; it’s not like she’s turned a blind eye to that. Really, one of the points, if not the point, of the book is that life is hard sometimes,” he said. “I get that. But life is still good, and you can still be happy.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.