The Girl Next Door (1989) book review

Author: Jack Ketchum

Published: 1989

Novelist Jack Ketchum might very well be Satan in disquise. At the very least, he is the devil’s advocate. In this story he forcefully throttles your comfort zone and shatters any notions you may have about the overall goodness of humanity. In almost sinister fashion, he guides you to the edge of hell then dares you to turn away. Not intended for the timid reader, this one is a total soul scorcher.

The Girl Next Door is loosely based on the unsettling true story of the murder of Sylvia Likens. This adaption takes place in the 1950′s suburban America. Just a typical neighborhood that many people can identify with.

Meg is a pretty teenage girl that suffers unconscionable mental and physical punishment from her aunt Ruth. Now, any story about child abuse is going to be unsettling. What’s even more unnerving here is the fact that several young family members and neighborhood kids witness the graphic torture as Meg is held captive in the basement. Many of them even join in on the horrific treatment of the poor girl. I can hardly think of a more terrible situation.

To make matters even more unbearable, Ketchum tells this story from the point of view of a frightened young boy named David. He cares about Meg, but is scared to tell any other adults about the situation. Plus he is strangely drawn to this whole ordeal. With Meg tied up and stripped naked, it eventually moves past the point of his rising sexual curiosity to helpless desperation.

Ketchum is a master storyteller. His vivid descriptions of the malicious torture are emotionally vicious, but he leaves much of it up to your darkest imaginations. The roughest part is the fact that we the readers are forced to gradually soak in David’s thoughts and his guilt attached to the situation. That’s where the book really stands apart from the movie. The events are repulsive, of course, but I remember also feeling guilty because I shared David’s fascination and eagerness to return down to that basement.

There is never a dull moment in this book. It has someĀ rich character developmentĀ and fitting dialogue. Plus, Aunt Ruth has to be one of the most heinous villans ever imagined. I’m telling you, she’s ruthless. Most kids have a natural tendency to usually accept an adult’s judgment as being wiser than their own. At least to a certain degree. But the way she is able to basically brainwash these children is flat out scary. Plus, who could actually do this sort of thing to another person, let alone a young teen? Evil knows no boundaries.

The Girl Next Door crosses a line that should never be touched, except in fictional books or movies. Some people might feel that a situation this grim shouldn’t even be talked about. It will definitely invoke feelings of discomfort and contempt. But, welcome to the real world. Reality often blurs any sense of hope or righteousness. It’s unfortunate–really shameful and disgusting–that something like this could ever happen. Once you open this book and start the descent into hell, there is no turning back. The wickedness will be forever emblazoned in your memory banks.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you

Posted by: Chris Blackshere

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4 Responses

  1. Jthedemon

    Man, this is fucked up on so many different levels. The true account is all that much worse…

    May 16, 2011 at 1:14 am

  2. Cenobite7

    Great book review Mackshere!!! This is, without question, one of the harrowing American novels ever written and Ketchum is easily one of my all-time favorite living writers. Girl Next Door was a great book indeed.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:27 pm

  3. Mackshere

    Thanks bros!

    May 18, 2011 at 11:12 pm

  4. Pingback: The Girl Next Door (2007) Movie Review |

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