Camden, NJ, 1948. When 11 year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth’s, she has no way of knowing that 52 year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute―unless she does as he says.
This chilling novel traces the next two harrowing years as Frank mentally and physically assaults Sally while the two of them travel westward from Camden to San Jose, forever altering not only her life, but the lives of her family, friends, and those she meets along the way.
Based on the experiences of real-life kidnapping victim Sally Horner and her captor, whose story shocked the nation and inspired Vladimir Nabokov to write his controversial and iconic Lolita, this heart-pounding story by award-winning author T. Greenwood at last gives a voice to Sally herself.
Much like the title, RUST AND STARDUST was a very oxymoronic experience for me. A story dark, repulsive and extremely hard to read composed with beautiful delicacy. T. Greenwood’s rendering of this true crime novel leaves this story as one not to be missed.
When 11 year-old Sally wants to fit in with some girls at school, she takes them up on their “initiation” dare into their group; she must steal an item from a local store. Instead of leaving with her stolen item and her place in the group, Sally gets caught by 52 year-old Frank LaSalle. Frank claims he’s an FBI agent and Sally must do what he says or else she’ll be arrested.
“Listen up. There’s been a change of plans. The government says I’ve got to deliver you to headquarters.:
Sally felt her knees weaken. Bile rose to her throat, but she was too afraid to spit it out, and so she swallowed it back down, burning. She shook her head.
“To the courthouse?” She asked.
He laughed and patted her on the back. “If only it were the easy, darling. You see, they’re at the shore. Atlantic City.”
“Oh no,” she said. “I can’t lave Camden, mu mama would never let me. She’s sick. She needs me to help her at home.” Sally shook her head. “My sister’s about to have a baby.”
But then he pulled back his coat, and Sally could see the butt and of a gun sticking out from his waistband. Her vision started to darken around the edges.
“Here’s what you’re gonna do,” he said.
Her first order is to tell her mom that she was invited by a friend from school to go on vacation at the shore. Her mother agrees and even meets Frank when she drops her off at the train station. Sally thinks she’s going to meet a judge over her stolen item, but little does she know is that the drop off may be the last time she ever sees her mom again. Over the course of two years we witness the physical and psychological abuse done to Sally at the hands of her abductor.
“My mama’s gonna worry,” she whispered, “if you take me away.”
He touched her face, and her body stiffened. “Don’t worry about your mama, Sally. They’ll forget about you soon. It’ll be like you never was.”
Sally is every 11 year-old. Young and wanting to fit in with her peers that she’s willing to do anything for that to happen. She was truly at the wrong place, wrong time. What’s even more heartbreaking is that Frank picked up on her vulnerability and disguised himself as someone that should be trusted. And Sally, being naive and not wanting to get in trouble fell pray to his manipulation.
When I started reading RUST AND STARDUST with the knowledge of it being based on a true story, I thought there’d be times where I’d need to stop to take a breath. Honestly, that wasn’t the case. As soon as I started reading I couldn’t put it down. I felt such an emotional pull to stay with Sally. I felt like I couldn’t leave her alone with that monster.
I found myself often frustrated while reading. There were so many missed opportunities for adults to say something to remove Sally from Frank’s grips. That goes to say, to anyone reading this, if you see something suspicious. . . say something! You could save a life!
T. Greenwood is an extremely gifted author. Through the tough and heart wrenching times the she made sure to tell the story without holding back, but still show respect to the victim and anyone that has been through similar situations.