Before I even picked up a Jack Ketchum novel I understood the graphic nature and painful material of his books, so I was instantly intrigued and excited to read The Girl Next Door.
Once I put it down I felt deeply alarmed, I really respected the book but decided that I could never bring myself to read it again, I have read it twice since.
Ketchum documents the systematic torture and ruin of a young innocent girl orchestrated by a mentally disturbed adult who’s care she and her sister are left in.
Now this is nothing new and unfortunately is a horrific subject we have seen many times in the headlines of modern media: a deeply broken individual sees an object of youth that stirs up resentful feelings and being in a position of authority is able to manipulate said child and cause egregious harm to body and mind.
These conceptions alone are not why this book is so offensive, it is the delivery by the author which disheartens and causes emotional distress.
The book is told to the reader in a narrative flashback by the main character David who lived across the street from three other boys circling his age and their “cool” single mom Ruth.
Ruth is given charge of two young girls; Meg and Susan after their parents die in a car accident. At first Ruth treats the girls with minor disdain but then focuses her rage and assaults specifically against the older girl Meg, utilizing Susan as an object of leverage to keep her in line.
Ruth employs the unsupervised children in the neighborhood to dispense her torturous punishment and since it is sanctioned by an adult the kids feel that what they are doing is OK and allowed.
The acts become more horrific as Ruth clearly drops deeper and deeper into a psychotic breakdown, along with her three boys and a few other neighborhood delinquents who treat the serious offences as a type of game.
The other aspect of the novel which affected me the most is the depiction from the point of view by David, who does not partake in the horrendous acts but does nothing to prevent the suffering. This lack of effective action makes the character as well as the reader complicit in the entire sequence, which can be even worse than if you were committing the atrocities yourself.
One can not help during the entire book to blame the main character for his lack of courage and action at the same time relate to the fear of authoritative figures we all had as children and the consequences if we disobeyed them.
Ketchum brings you into the dark closed doors that we try to ignore and pretend is not happening, the true life events of innocence being destroyed by adults simply because they have put trust in the wrong person. The Girl Next Door is simply an ugly truth and at a few points in the novel you may need to just put it down to digest what you read and silently plead for the main character to do something before it is too late.