When I finished reading American Psycho I got an e-mail from Goodreads saying “You have read 18 novels in 2015, congratulations”. And I felt proud of myself because just a few years ago, before I moved in with my wife, I probably finished 1-2 books a year….maybe. I then said to myself before starting The Girl Next Door “Well this will probably be my first book done in 2016” and put the book onto my kindle (because it’s actually impossible to find elsewhere). Knowing that it was so closely based on a true story I was hesitant because normally when I’m frustrated in a book/movie/tv show I just remind myself “it’s okay someone wrote the character to be this way, they’re not actually like that”. But in a true story adaptation you can’t say this and it conjures up all kind of emotions. Three daysafter starting it however I received an e-mail from Goodreads saying “You have read 19 novels in 2015, congratulations”. It’s not necessarily that the book was short but rather I read this thing non-stop, couldn’t put it down and finished it at 3am with my reading light on even though I was exhausted. Part of me wants to read this book 1000 times and part of me never wants to see it again. Let me explain……..
The Main Character
You couldn’t help but love this kid, all you did throughout the book was cheer him on and hope that he would end up with the girl. And if you know anything about the true story this is based on you’ll know that this probably isn’t going to happen. But the reason he was such a good main character is because he’s a witness to the horror you read throughout the novel. He’s never directly involved, nor is he the victim in the novel. Rather it’s the girl next door who is being tortured by her Aunt and young male cousins – who are the main character’s best friends. It allows you to see the horror from an objective point of view, and it makes you really relate to him because more often than not he simply watches the horror unfold and freezes with fear. It was easy for me to read this and say “go help her!” but then I have to remember when I was 12 and what I would have done, realistically I would’ve frozen with fear just like he did. His role is the story teller and also the character who gives hope to the audience that everything will be okay. Had the main character been the girl being victimized or one of the siblings who tortured her then this would have been 100% a different book. Keeping the perspective how it was let you understand just maybe why this was plausible and how we would justify turning the other way. You as the reader are horrified but at the same time you say “I think I can totally get why he didn’t do anything” because he does such a great job at explaining why as a 12 year old, he was easy to influence and scare.
I remember reading Harry Potter 5 and legitimately being in a bad mood because of all the chapters with Dolores Umbridge. I would get so angry and frustrated and I knew it was fake but she still boiled my blood. Ruth, the mother of three sons, and main antagonist did the exact same thing to me but to a higher degree than Umbridge did because….she was based on A REAL PERSON! I couldn’t say “oh well at least I know she’s fake”, in this case I was reading it and getting so angry saying “I can’t believe a person actually did this!” She was a vicious, cold, mean spirited, hateful manipulator who influenced her sons and several neighborhood children into committing crimes against the victim while she was the cruelest of them all. It started as simple psychological abuse (not letting Meg eat due to being too fat) to emotional abuse (hurling insults at Meg for being filthy and a slut) to full out physical abuse (having her sons hold her why she punched her in the stomach) to complete sadistic abuse (the entire third act of the book). Never have I been so tempted to read spoilers for a book, but the fact was I was getting so angry I needed to know if some form of justice was going to be coming her way. It would be the only thing that would get me through this emotional roller coaster Jack Ketchum had sent me on. Of the entire book challenge she was by far the most evil and sadistic villain I’ve read so far (and this includes Patrick Bateman).
This book I’ll admit never had me scared. At no point was I reading it and sleeping with the lamp on. That being said, it was incredibly upsetting without being disturbing (as American Psycho was at times). The crimes that were committed against the girl were told from the third person perspective so you were sparred that to some level. The main character never did anything to the girl, but he watched the majority of it happened and was often frozen with fear. He described it as best as he could but you never actually had to hear the perspective of the torturers or the tortured which made it bearable and readable. This however gripped you as you just kept hoping that they’d stop but much like the main character, you realize it was only going to escalate. For the first time in this book challenge I felt helpless and powerless which is really the worst feeling to have in any horror novel/movie. Normally I critique what a character does or say “I’d just do this” when I’m reading this. But this book really makes you feel powerless as you can’t see any way out since literally everything you’d think of, he thinks of, and everything you’d try, he tries.
So once again I have not seem the film adaptation. I think I might although I do have my reservations about it. Namely it doesn’t look like A Quality production, which I’m not saying everything needs to be big budget, but this has the look of a straight to dvd kind of movie. That being said, Stephen King watched the film and said it was one of the most disturbing American films he’d ever seen. And any time Stevie K thinks something is disturbing then you know it’s going to be really crazy. So I promise I will watch this one and not skip it like I did with Ghost Story.
It’s so tough for me to say because honestly I LOVED this book. I am excited to finish this book challenge because I want to re-read this again and again. But I won’t lie, certain parts are incredibly disturbing and uncomfortable to read. And it’s not a horror book per se, but it’s also not a crime book. I’d label it psychological thriller but an intense and slightly graphic one. If you have a strong stomach and like psychological thrillers then read it. If you’re a fan of horror I can’t say for sure you’ll like it as it isn’t a traditional horror story. And if you’re not a fan of horror, blood, gore or anything graphic then again I can’t say for sure if you’d like it. All I know is if you have a strong stomach and can handle the graphic scenes then read it. Please read it, this book is amazing and will find it’s way onto my re-readi list soon enough!
Now to take a break from the graphic and the violent sociopath stories. I’m going to read the co-written House by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker. Hopefully this ghost story does the trick and scares me through and through!