A street like any other in the suburbs, with neighborhood children ready for summer vacation. Time off school isn’t the only reason for David’s excitement, as he meets the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen, and she just happens to be his best friend’s cousin that now lives next door under the care of their aunt, Ruth. Getting to know Meg will be the highlight of the precious months of freedom, yet something doesn’t seem right, not with all the harsh punishment inflicted on Meg and her sister by Ruth. When games turn vicious, and events cross a line, Davy plays the role of witness to the maltreatment of two girls, and he may be the only thing that stops it from going too far.
(WARNING: This review contains MAJOR spoilers.)
* * * * *Top Read 2020* * * * *
There was always one book on my shelf that I dreaded picking up, one that had a reputation of being extremely difficult to read due to its horrific subject matter. Since I’d recently posted 10 Books That Shocked Me, I decided to finally give in to it: the story I knew would top them all. The Girl Next Door definitely pushed the limits of what I thought I could handle, it took a terrible real life event and forever immortalised it on paper. It’s just that Ketchum’s writing was so engaging – he pulled me in with the first-person perspective, captured me completely, even though I knew how ugly it’d get. There’s no sugarcoating it, this is an account of child abuse, where a girl is held captive and tortured by a single mother, her children, and multiple other kids from the neighborhood, her younger sister also receiving her fair share of suffering. It snowballed into increasingly sickening extremes, including but not limited to starvation and mutilation, all under the pretense that she deserved it, what I can only describe as misogyny in the truest sense driving the actions of the sole adult involved. I didn’t exactly enjoy it, not in the traditional sense, but rather it wormed its way into my brain and it’ll no doubt stay with me. How this novel was ever written to begin with I’ll never know, I’m guessing it took a lot; there was a certain terrible scene that wasn’t as detailed as the rest, and thank goodness for that, even Ketchum couldn’t stomach it.
If not for it having legitimate roots in the real world, it could’ve been easy to disconnect from Meg’s torment, to dismiss it as a work of fiction and therefore feel distance from it, but that simply wasn’t possible. I always had this voice in the back of my mind, reminding me of Sylvia Likens, and how not one person intervened before it was too late. The scope is just dumbfounding and anger inducing, however it’s a demonstration of how much power adults can have over children; if something is deemed appropriate by a grown-up, well then it must be okay, right? Let’s face it, young people can be monstrous under the influence of particular folk, and that’s downright scary in itself. Ketchum honed in on this, and even David, who was the voice of the book, had questionable reasons as to why he remained an onlooker for so long. I didn’t consider David a hero or a saviour, he was just one of the brainless perpetrators that were responsible.
Lastly, I need to mention Ruth, as she has to be the most abhorrent villain I’ve ever encountered. Appreciating baddies is something I often do with fiction – I like monsters, and I love clever and manipulative masterminds. But Ruth? She made me feel like I wanted to vomit, and still does. I’m unable to acknowledge her as someone in a book who I love to hate, because there’s just plain hate, and a mountain of disgust. People like her actually exist, and that’s enough to make me want to go to the safety of my bed and never leave.
In conclusion: I wouldn’t recommend The Girl Next Door to anyone. Even though I believe it to be a powerhouse of a novel, it’s still the definition of miserable. Telling the story of Meg and her sister after being put in the care of their aunt, it plummets into a disquieting and heartbreaking tale of abuse. I had to take several breaks from reading, and it was honestly exhausting on a mental level – the build-up was nauseating, events getting worse and worse, the writing unforgiving. Some stories need to be told, though, and we should always be reminded of what people, even our own neighbour, can be capable of.
In the darkness, I realized, you tend to disappear.
© Red Lace 2020
Yeah, this novel is definitely one of a kind. It left such an effect on me, I haven’t read anything by Jack Ketchum since. I plan to, but I’m still building up the nerve for it (and whittling down my TBR list).
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I wonder how disturbing his other work is, I think I have to build up the nerve too.
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I’ll let you know if I ever try to read his work again.
Great review, it’s weird how a book can be so gripping and yet be so horrible. I enjoyed it but it made me very icky!!
Lol, I know what you mean! It was difficult to put into words.
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