Saturday, October 11, 2008

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

This discussion of Living Dead Girl will contain SPOILERS. I doubt that people haven't heard any of this before, but I wanted to warn you just in case.

So I wasn't sure whether or not I would write about this book. Which sort of makes sense because I really didn't want to read it. It seemed too much, too ugly, too disturbing. But with all the chatter going around about the title, I really wanted to see what everyone was talking about. Especially since I can't seem to find anyone who didn't enjoy the book. Everyone seems to have found it haunting and unforgettable.

So yes. Haunting and unforgettable it is, you know, in that way where you wish you just hadn't watched America's Most Wanted so that you could sleep again without wondering if the serial rapist is going to get you tomorrow as you walk to your car. And unforgettable in that way that it is extremely likely you'll never let your child out of the house unsupervised before they are 30. And if you think I'm exaggerating, read it. You'll find I'm not.

I had quite an issue with people saying that the book isn't graphic. I understand what they were saying, but I was expecting something else. Generally when something isn't graphic I assume it will occur off page. I assume it will be insinuated, but it not spelled out. For instance, the abuser takes the victim into a bedroom and shuts the door. You know bad things are happening behind the closed door, but you aren't told anything about what they are. In contrast, the sexual abuse in this book is very graphic, not because the author gives a blow by blow account (thankfully we are spared that), but you know exactly when she is being raped, you know when she is forced to give oral sex, you know everything that is happening to her as it happens. What makes it even more horrifying is the frequency. Alice is abused morning, noon, and night. There is never a moment when the two of them are together when he is not either sexually or physically abusing her. It was literally too much to bear.

The writing is very good. You feel Alice's numbness. You understand her hatred of Ray, her abuser. Her hatred of herself and what she's become. She knows she is irreparably damaged. That she has become a monster willing to help Ray kidnap another child so that she'll be spared the abuse. She knows she might even like it. This is where the author really excelled in her writing. She showed us the cycle of abuse and how people can have their humanity driven out of them. How they can be driven to commit unthinkable things. And how they can regain their humanity if they try hard enough. Alice, for all the thinks she is dead, still has a spark of hope that helps her overcome.

I did wonder about Ray. He was physically and sexually abused by his mother. He killed his mother by faking an accidental death. He kidnaps a girl named Alice, abuses her for years and then kills her. At that point he kidnaps our current Alice. He tells her that if she tells or runs away he'll kill her family - pretty standard talk for an abuser. But Alice keeps telling us that although Ray lies about everything, he isn't lying about that. Soon enough we find out that he did indeed go and kill Alice's family. After she's dead. Which seemed like too much. Ray is already the worst nightmare that you could have, but to go and kill someone's family after the fact seems like a risk he wouldn't have taken.

All in all, I did not like this book. It was well written, but I found it gratuitous in its disturbing detail. I certainly do not agree with the people who are so strongly suggesting that this is a book that everyone should read. It is not. To be honest, I'm not even completely sure I'd be comfortable putting it in a teen collection. Publishers have definitely been pushing the limits of what is considered YA lately, and I think this might have pushed just a little too far.


Laura said...

I agree, Patti. I thought it was very well done, but there were plenty of times that I felt like *I* wasn't old enough to be reading it. Definitely not a book that *everyone* should read.

Patti said...

Right. No one can say it wasn't well written. But sometimes just because you can go there doesn't necessarily mean you should.

naomibates said...

I have to say, I feel the same. There is no way I'd put this in the I've said before, this is definitely an "office" book only.

Laura Lutz said...

I'm so glad someone else feels the same way I do about this book. It's incredibly well-written and indeed unforgettable. What it is NOT is a book for teens. Just because the main character is 15 does not make it a teen book. Being in a large urban library system, I would certainly buy the book...but shelve it squarely in the adult section.