Sunday, November 23, 2008

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (Simon Pulse, 2008)

Lynn: Scott's masterfully crafted book has to be the most emotionally challenging book I read this year with a storyline that troubled my sleep for many nights. Kidnapped at age ten, "Alice" has been sexually and emotionally abused for the past five years. With her body maturing despite near starvation, Alice knows that Ray will kill her soon but first he wants her to lure and train her replacement. This is definitely a book for only our most mature teens. So why blog about this wrenching book? First, this blog is about noteworthy books and the writing is extraordinary. The spare, matter-of-fact prose, while not graphic, somehow magnifies the horrifying impact. Skillfully sketched scenes reveal volumes about the characters. I can still feel Alice's paralyzing sense of hopelessness and helplessness. Secondly, there is an underlying reminder of how important it is to really see the people around us. Alice's extreme situation is fortunately rare but sexual and emotional abuse is far more common than most of us would like to believe. Living Dead Girl is a wake-up call for all of us .
Cindy: I agree with Lynn wholeheartedly about this book. She's been waiting for me to finish it for weeks, but as Chris Crutcher says on the jacket, it's a book you HAVE to put down but are drawn back to. Every few chapters I had to walk away from it. The writing in this powerful story is exquisite, despite the very grim nature. It's quite clear what Alice has been forced to endure for years without the descriptions descending into the gratuitous or salacious for shock value. Every word seems to be carefully chosen, and the story is spare in its eloquence. For me, it wasn't the sexual abuse that was so horrifying (as awful as that was) it was how broken and, as Alice says, how "wrong" she has become. It is impossible to imagine her ever recovering from the persistent psychological abuse she has endured. "I want to run but I can't. I can't. I tried and it didn't work, it never works, every day I am an open sore, a walking scream, and it doesn't matter. No one sees me. I want to run, but I know there is nowhere I can go."

When I was four, my mother left me locked in the car alone, in a K-Mart parking lot in Elkhart, Indiana while she went inside to pick up a few things. I had the window cracked to get some air and was startled when a man walked up to the car and started to talk to me through the crack. He wanted me to unlock the door, he asked other things of me, and even though I didn't know really what he was talking about, I knew it was wrong and I rolled the window the rest of the way up and kept the door locked. He fled when someone approached the area and my mother soon returned. She never left me in a car again, but I've often thought of that incident over the years, when I read a book like this, and am certain if I had unlocked the door that some harm would have come to me.

Lynn and I often talk about how differently adults read these types of books from the way teens read them. I loved horror movies as a teen, not so much as an adult after reading too many horrific news headlines. I read a book like this and think of my two teenage daughters and worry. Teens will read this book and perhaps take some caution from its story, but mostly they will read it for the horror of the story, just like they devour the Child Called It memoirs by Dave Pelzer. In some cases, I think it is a comfort as a teen to read about someone's life that is worse than your own. "I've got it bad, but not this bad." In other cases, there is comfort in knowing that you are not alone. This book is not for our middle school students, but one of our goals is to highlight the best books of the year, and this is one of them.

Next up will be a funny book--we need it after this one.


Lisa McMann said...

You are so right -- teens read this for the horror of it. But for me as a mom, I kept picturing my own child in this situation and that's what makes it as horrible as it is to adults, I think.

I absolutely loved this book.