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The Girl Next Door is a novel that was written by Jack Ketchum in 1989. The story is told in a narrative style by an older man named David, who is reflecting on things that happened in the past, which are causing him to feel guilt, grief and intense regret - the things that he witnessed are haunting him and because the book is told in a flashback, first person type style it isn't long before we start understanding how horrendous the events that he witnessed were. Although the narrator is a huge part of the story, the real focus in the book is a girl called Meg, and her little sister, who move into their aunts house (the narrator's neighbors house) after their parents die.
It's not long before David is fully aware of and exposed to the abuse that the two girls are suffering (mainly Meg) at the hands of their mentally ill auntie, who is called Ruth, her children, and some local children. The book follows David's thoughts and developing feelings towards Meg as he slowly falls in love with her, and he describes his attempts at rescuing her which are heart breaking to read. It really highlights just how evil/mentally unhinged Ruth must of been, as he is desperate to tell his parents what is going on but is too scared, as are a majority of the other children who are commiting crimes such as torture and rape.
The presentation of the book is quite simplistic, it's well written - very basic and easy to glide through (for people who can handle the subject matter), and the style of writing is consistent and in each sentence the emotion and regret oozes out - it is like having the narrator's voice in my head, reading it to me, if that makes sense, it is incredibly easy to work out his tone of voice, and the emotions he is feeling, and it's easy to get the jist of the story. He builds tension well and explains things thoroughly while the book is still believable and not over-the-top-shocking. The narrator really captures the doubts and frustrations that he felt as a young boy as if it was just yesterday, and it was a touching read.
The author does a good job in making certain characters hateable, however a majority were left unexplored and didn't have much depth, for example I was curious to know whether Ruth actually abused her own kids and if they were 'under her control' or if they were actually enjoying the atrocious crimes they commited - which they seemed to be, but who knows? I also didn't like some of the gory details in the book and struggled to believe that the narrator would be able to understand some of the things that happened at such a young age, but apart from this I think the book is very, very well written.
The only disadvantage to the book is its disturbing contents. I love horror movies and gore, but when it comes to reading about a young girl being tortured, raped and then murdered in alot of detail, it is quite upsetting, however it did keep me gripped to the book and at no point did I need to take a break or want to stop reading. I did feel very angry and upset at the abuse that Meg (and her sister) had to endure, but I didn't feel heartbroken and I wasn't crying hysterically, mainly because the book is focussed David's love towards her rather than it being a book in which we get to know Meg. I know that might sound harsh, but that's just my opinion. If Meg was the narrator or main character then obviously I would feel different. If you are squeamish or can't handle child abuse or extreme sexual abuse, then I wouldn't reccomend his book, however I think the underlying message of the book is the main focus - the story of a man whose past regrets are haunting him and wearing him down, day by day. He acknowledges the pain and fear that Meg would of felt, and my favourite quote from the book is as follows -
"You think you know about pain? Talk to my second wife. She does. Or she thinks she does. She says that once when she was nineteen or twenty she got between a couple of cats fighting - her own cat and a neighbor's - and one of them went at her, climbed her like a tree, tore gashes out of her thighs and breasts and belly that you still can see today, scared her so badly she fell back against her mother's turn-of-the-century Hoosier, breaking her best ceramic pie plate and scraping six inches of skin off her ribs while the cat made its way back down her again, all tooth and claw and spitting fury. Thirty-six stitches I think she said she got. And a fever that lasted days. My second wife says that's pain. She doesn't know sh*t, that woman."
I think this quote is really powerful, and if you've read the book you will understand what it means - it's basically about how people suffer in silence yet some people blow things that are no where near as horrific out of proportian. Overall, the book is rather disturbing, and at parts, very graphic, and these few genuinely shocking and brutal scenes make up for where the book drags. The end of the book was interesting to read, and made me question a few things too, so it wasn't entirely 'satisfying' but I found that it ended well.