Living Dead Girl: A Novel (2008) by Elizabeth Scott is a chilling and disturbing novel that revolves around a young girls abduction. Thankfully the novel was short at 170 pages. The drama unfolds from the pov of Alice, a 15 year old girl who was abducted in a public place five years ago. Her captor, Ray, is not your typical monster. No. He looks normal. He even behaves normally in public. But Ray is not normal. He’s a pedophile/abuser/killer.
The story, like I said is mercifully short but packs an emotional one-two punch. The theme and title precludes any notion of a light story anyway. Parts of it had me throwing up in mouth a little. The author leaves nothing to the imagination in here so it’s somewhat surprising to see this story labeled as “young adult.” The narrative is harsh and brutal in the telling of a young girl living with her captor/abuser. The abuse was somewhat generalized and was not overly graphic or gratuitous. However, those scenes were difficult to read.
When the story starts, Alice has been living with this monster for 5 years and has settled into a routine. The two of them hide under the pretense of being father and daughter. But no one pays much attention to them anyway. Unsurprisingly, not many people are interested in delving beneath the surface or getting involved in other people’s problems. Everybody who comes into contact with Alice knows something is wrong but no one is moved to do anything about it.
While Alice (not even her real name) lives with Ray, he insists on her remaining youthful looking. Resorting to methods to ensure that she doesn’t gain weight and makes every effort to make her body look like that of a young girl. The rest of the story is a conglomeration of horrific scenes of emotional and physical abuse. It was a bit over the top.
Alice does try unsuccessfully to leave. Emotional blackmail ends up keeping her by his side. With her identity stripped, Alice seems resolved to her fate. She lives in constant fear of her death everyday.
I don’t like the implications of what this story says about our society. That we’d rather turn our heads than face down evil. That there’s no one to save you unless you save yourself. Most damning of all is that adults are sometimes consciously or unconsciously complicit in the immoral behavior of others. The author rips apart those who judge victims:
“The audience always boos and says You Should Have Done Something. You should have fought back. You should have known no one has that kind of power. You should have been strong.” pg 40.
Here’s the part that got me:
“The thing is, you can have that kind of power and everyone in those audiences knows it. That’s why they yell. That’s why they say You Should Have Done Something.
They have power too.
I’d like to see them with it taken away. I’d like to see What They’d Do Then.” pg. 41
This story is not for the faint of heart. The ending seems hopeful and open to interpretation. The climatic ending is preceded by Alice’s desperate attempt to break free by providing Ray with another victim. A girl name Lucy that Alice meets at the local park. Alice and Ray plot to kidnap the girl but things don’t go as planned. Other than Jake (Lucy’s older brother) and Barbara, a cop who shows some mild interest in Alice’s situation, everyone else seem uninterested in a “living dead girl.”
Compelling stuff and this is why I am drawn to YA literature. The downside to reading stories like this is the lack of balance between light and dark. Does good triumph over evil? The author is quick to tear apart stereotypes and cliches. Her title is a oxymoron. Her conclusions about people is disheartening. I’ve read other notable and compelling YA fiction that deal with serious grown up issues like this. Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess is one such story. Innocence lost is one theme that is hard to read. Stories like this are often written to remind us of the unspeakable horrors of the world. The story wasn’t preachy and the pacing was kinetic. Good read and honestly, I don’t care to repeat the experience. B.
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott was a recommended read at Barnes and Noble. I didn’t locate a digital copy of this book anywhere. Living Dead Girl is a complete contrast with what this author has previously written before, stories like Bloom and Something, Maybe, among others. Books I plan to read in future.