Book Review: The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
Title: The Girl Next Door
Blurb: Suburbia. Shady, tree-lined streets, well-tended lawns, and cozy homes. A nice, quiet place to grow up. Unless you are teenage Meg or her crippled sister, Susan. On a dead-end street, in the dark, damp basement of the Chandler house, Meg and Susan are left captive to the savage whims and rages of a distant aunt who is rapidly descending into madness. It is a madness that infects all three of her sons and finally the entire neighborhood. Only one troubled boy stands hesitantly between Meg and Susan and their cruel, torturous deaths. A boy with a very adult decision to make.
I give it:
First, can we just take a moment to appreciate the quality of writing here? The way Ketchum sets us up with this neighborhood, this group of kids and the overall vibe made the rest of the story that much more painful to read. I actually had to double check that it was a horror genre in the first few chapters because the voice and telling were so lulling.
And then, bam, you were there. The first clues were so minuscule that you might miss them if you weren’t looking and then with carefully calculated gusto he threw us into the darkness.
This was a heartbreaking story to experience and one can only be grateful that Ketchum did not write it from Meg’s perspective. I think that would have completely crushed my soul.
Throughout the story, we watch the effects of peer pressure as it wars with personal morals. We watch children reach out to adults who fail them. We watch one woman infect an entire neighborhood like an invasive plant and one can’t help but wonder what made the children so susceptible to being a part of the evil.
My heart breaks for Meg and Susan because this horror…fiction though it may be…is all too real. It brings to mind a quote from Niccolò Ammaniti, “Monsters don’t exist. It’s men you should be afraid of, not monsters.”
When you turn the last page there isn’t really a good feeling in terms of the conclusion but more of a relief to be free of it. This is one of the worst stories I would ever strongly recommend to others.
Stories like this are always hard for both to read, and to not read. The scariest horror stories are the ones that really happen every day yet I feel a morbid solidarity with those who suffer in this stories. As someone who has fallen victim to so many monsters parading around as humans, I deeply feel the pain and fear laced in line after line.
When I was younger and going through something myself I read books like “A Child Called It.” And I would feel like, “My situation could be worse.” Looking back, what an awful feeling to find solace and solidarity in stories so heartbreaking.
Until next time, scribe happy and stay sassy,