Title: Living Dead Girl
Author: Elizabeth Scott
Length: 170 pages
My star rating: ★ ★
Ray kidnapped “Alice” five years ago from a school field trip when she was only ten. Since then, she has lived in terror of his beatings and sexual assault. Now that she has turned fifteen, she fears that he plans to kill her and replace her with a new “Alice.” She slowly begins to form a desperate plan to save her life.
[8/15 novels in November]
Warnings: This review discusses graphic sexual abuse and violence.
I was torn when it came to rating this one. I really don’t believe in praising (or condemning) books based on the importance or gravity of the topic alone, especially when there is no character development or real plot to speak of. And I agree with many of the points raised in other two-star reviews on Goodreads.
Maybe I expected too much going into Living Dead Girl, but as soon as I started turning pages and saw that the prose was highly simplistic and relied on would-be poetry/stream-of-consciousness-type passages, I had a feeling I was going to be let down. As I hurtled towards the end (though given how brief the novel is and how quick a read it made, the end seemed to take forever to arrive), I realized with a sinking feeling that there would likely be little, if any, resolution.
I did, of course, feel pity for “Alice,” the main character who was kidnapped at the vulnerable age of ten and abused ever since. How could I not? But that is all the novel was: a repetitive and sickening portrait of an abusive relationship, a relationship that ended when the novel did. “Alice” never grew as a character, nor was she given any opportunity to do so. It was more the written form of a slasher-flick than it is a psychological study. While the scenarios in them were slightly different, I think both Where the Stars Still Shine and If You Find Me did a far better job of examining the consequences of such a situation. Those novels were also about more than just the abuse itself. The main characters in both were also affected, deeply affected, by their experiences; they were also troubled and hurt. But their stories had arcs all the same.
Unless Ms. Scott’s point was that many kidnapped young people’s stories end in death, thus rendering character development futile. But that’s a pretty dismal point of view. After all, isn’t it hope—even a tiny sliver of hope—that keeps such victims and their distraught families going?
And was Living Dead Girl an accurate picture of what a young kidnap victim goes through? Well…who knows? Fortunately, not me. It’s true that no two cases are the same, and while I applaud and encourage writers to use their imagination, Elizabeth Scott probably has no idea either. That in itself does not make the novel bad or inappropriate by any means. But it does make me wish she’d stretched her creative wings and not just repeatedly recounted all the terrible ways a perverted man could rape, beat, humiliate, and otherwise torture his teenage victim.
I mean, do readers—especially the intended fifteen- or sixteen-and-up-crowd audience—need to read about all the ways Ray touched “Alice” and hurt her (in detail)? No scenes wer extremely graphic, but they were all graphic enough for the reader to understand what was going on with perfect, skin-crawling certainty—and most of it was sexual. This novel really should not be YA at all; there are none of the themes you expect from even the worst and most cliché YA novels. No growth, no self-discovery, nothing.
I’ll put it this way: my mom was angry that I saw Silence of the Lambs when I was twelve. I would be a lot less happy to know my preteen or teenager had been exposed to some of the images and ideas in this novel.
Maybe the writing was beautiful for some, but I am not and never will be a fan of the stream-of-consciousness style (perhaps the only exception being William Faulkner). Said style made the book seem disjointed, bland, and rushed. I gained little insight at all about poor, tortured “Alice.” While I’m sure there were some important messages buried in her hundred-and-seventy-page narrative, most of what stuck with me was the horror of the trauma she endured.
tl;dr: I don’t think this book had much of a contribution to make. Reading about multiple rapes and beatings did nothing for me. I already felt terrible for “Alice”; just a few such scenes would have done, leaving more space for her inner narrative and psychological development and giving the novel a distinctly less…“torture porn” feel.
Kidnap victims may not be fully understood, but they are sympathetic. As I see it, beating readers over the head with the kinds of abuse one such victim could have gone through will not make them more sympathetic, and I doubt—when done this way, at least—that it will make people understand them better, either.
Maybe the “big picture” of Living Dead Girl was that we, both as a society and as individuals, need to pay more attention to our surroundings. “Alice” says over and over again that no one notices her, no one sees, no one cares. I’m sure that is true. I know about the “bystander effect,” though I find it difficult to justify violating your neighbor’s privacy and/or calling the cops (or CPS, or animal control, etc.) if you do not have solid evidence on your side. In some cases, if you aren’t careful, you might also make things worse—such as when Ray realizes “Alice” has been noticed by a well-meaning but totally ineffective police officer.
But the book still came off as…gross and voyeuristic in some ways. Unnecessary, really.
The ending was especially unsatisfactory. It made me feel like the first 169 pages had been all but a waste. All told, it was a very frustrating and unpleasant little book. Not for the faint of heart.