Horror Book Review And Discussion: "The Girl Next Door"
Review Of The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
Note: The Girl Next Door is loosely based on the true story of Sylvia Likens. Likens was brutally terrorized by her caregiver You can find out more information about Sylvia Liken's tragic story online.
This novel starts innocently enough; it's the beginning of summer, and the neighborhood kids are enjoying the local carnival and catching crayfish in the pond. The narrator, David, makes it clear that the events described in the book have haunted his him for years, even stating "Nothing in my life has been right since the summer of 1958 when we met Meg Loughlin and her sister Susan."
Despite it's light - hearted, almost playful start, the book quickly escalates into darker and more personal territory. The two new girls on the block - Meg and Susan Loughlin- lost both parents in a car accident. The two teenagers go to live with their aunt Ruth, a tough and hard-headed woman who drinks too much beer and smokes a lot of cigarettes.
After being yelled at and often mistreated, the girls begin to wonder why Ruth doesn't like them. After all, she's always gotten along fine with all the neighborhood boys. As this dark horror novel unfolds, abuse, torture, and unimaginable crimes that erase the very dignity of being human take place.
This book would be difficult for the average person to read, and it's important to know what the book contains before delving into it's pages; this can be classified as extreme horror. It's not for the faint of heart or emotionally sensitive. Many of the scenes implore a sense of doom and despair. For those reasons, it's probably not the best choice for the severely depressed.
One of the worst things about the book is the frustration the reader is forced to endure. Every time an opportunity arises, whenever an escape seems possible - that door of opportunity is quickly and mercilessly slammed shut before our eyes.
Despite the horrors of this novel, it does come with lessons on morality. The narrator, David, looks back on his past with a sense of guilt for his silence on the injustice he witnessed. He states " I could imagine I was, if not exactly blameless, not exactly culpable either." Despite the majority of the book being about torture, desperation and inhumanity, the beginning and ending are remarkably and refreshingly human. Most people have normal human emotions like guilt, empathy, and shame - the lesson here is not to be compliant when acts of carelessness occur.
In conclusion, I would recommend this book to those who are interested in horror novels and feel they can handle the emotionally charged content of the book. I also recommend it for those interested in morality and psychopathy or other mental disorders that can lead to a lack of empathy.
Whenever an escape seems possible, that door of opportunity is quickly and mercilessly slammed shut before our eyes.
Book Discussion Questions
1. Why does Ruth treat girls so differently than boys? Does it have to do with beauty, femininity, or something else? What's the root of it?
2. At one point, the narrator mentions he doesn't want to have kids for "one reason." What do you think that reason is?
3. Why did the narrator feel so powerless as a child, like he couldn't even tell his mom and dad what was happening? Have you ever felt this way?
4. Do you think Ruth's behavior stems from childhood trauma, a mental disorder, or something else?
5. Do you think the boys were acting so aggressively because an adult approved of what they were doing? How much did an adult's presence have to do with it?
6. Why did Meg decide to try to rescue her sister before escaping? Did this frustrate you, or did you understand it?
7. Did you wish for a quick and painless death for Meg at any point in the book, or did you still have hope that she would escape?
8. In your opinion, what was it that made the narrator finally realize his role in the injustice?
9. Would you consider Meg or Susan heroic? Why or why not?
10. Do you think Officer Jennings did what he could to stop this tragedy, or was he partly at fault for not taking more action?
11. If you were Susan's foster family, what would you tell her? How do you think Susan could heal after all of the things that happened to her family?
12. Did you feel that Ruth got what she deserved in the end of the book, or were you hoping for a different outcome for her?
© 2019 Tiffany Bower