Ami E. Bowen's Reviews > The Girl Next Door

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
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May 21, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: most-engaging-stories, read-60-books-in-2012-challenge
Read from May 20 to 21, 2012

This book is NOT for everyone. True Crime buffs will probably "enjoy" it. I put enjoy in quotations because this is not the type of story that readers will typically enjoy. Unless you have a sadistic/antisocial personality disorder, this book will bring forth a range of strong emotion but none of the will be enjoyment. Unless it's enjoyment of the writing style, etc, but not the matter at hand. This is the first book by Jack Ketchum that I've ever read. I decided to check out his stuff after having watched to movie "The Woman" and seeing that it was based on a story by Jack Ketchum and I noticed that Stephen King, a long-time favourite author of mine, has been talking Mr. Ketchum's work up and highly endorsing it. Based on the true story of Sylvia Likens and her younger sister Jenny who were given over to thier carnie parents' friend, Gertrude Baniszewski, after which they both, but Sylvia in particular, suffered greatly at the hands of their sadistic "foster-mother". This book follows the same course. The name are changed and the time-frame is slightly off. Instead of the younger sister having to wear leg-braces due to Polio as in the case with Jenny Likens, Susan Loughton wears leg braces due a car accident that messed up the bones in her legs. Meg and her younger sister Susan are moved in with their distant Aunt Ruth after an accident takes the lives of their parents and the state finds no other relative to take them in. The story is told during the span of a summer from the POV of the next-door neighbor boy David as per his memories of being a child with a type of "Wonder Years/Stand By Me-esque" feel to it. This story takes place during a time in our history,(the 1950s or so),when people didn't get into other's business and we didn't air our dirty laundry in pubic, what went on behind closed doors stayed behind them, etc. David has been living in 1950s Small Town, American since a young child and he's grown up with his next-door neighbor friends and other neighborhood kids for as long as he can remember. He meets Meg and strikes up a gentle friendship. Anyway, I think we all know what this book is all about so it's not a spoiler per say when I write that during the course of the story "Aunt Ruth" will begin to systematically abuse and torture the older sister; Meg, and eventually it escalates into a horror-show of depravity and cruelty and abuse that often resembled something out of the Spanish Inquisition. One thing I noticed was that, although she was taking pleasure for herself every time they hurt Meg, Ruth seemed to truly believe that she was imparting some practical wisdom to her victim and "help" her to not make the same mistakes she did by getting married and knocked up too young. To say she went about it the wrong way would be the understatement of the year! A school-teacher Ruth Chandler/Gertrude Baniszewski would never have been! An engaging read that made me want to check out the real story and compare notes. I find it utterly contemptible that this could have all be avoided had someone, that cop perhaps, taken Meg serious the first time she went to him and gotten her and her sister the hell out of there. But, as I mentioned it was a time of family privacy and no dirty laundry. People had a right to raise their kids however they wanted back then for the most part. I am very glad that we have, nowadays, what's known as "mandatory reporters" of abuse, neglect, molestation and financial exploitation, and that people with certain careers; teachers, healthcare professionals, clergypeople, are required by law to report any suspected case of abuse no matter if the suspension is just a gut feeling or not. And it doesn't matter if you are on the job or your day off or on Summer vacation five hundred miles form work. If you even hear about someone being hurt in any way, you are legally bound to call CPS or the police or both. If only we had the "Mandatory Reporting" law in place back when Sylvia/Meg and Susan/Jenny were being abused in that house in the sfifties. I would recommend this book to True Crime readers. And Jack Ketchum fans.
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