The Girl Next Door in not a recent release. It came out in 1989…
but I feel it stands the test of time and is to date one of the most disturbing and well-written horror novels I’ve read. I even earmarked pages where I want to go back and admire the author’s craft.
The Girl Next Door
This is a crime novel about two teen girls and the systematic and escalating abuse both of them (and one sister in particular) suffer at the hands of their aunt and her children and their friends. It is loosely based on the true story of Sylvia Likens in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1965. In 2007 it was made into a feature film, The Girl Next Door.
Warning: graphic violence, sexual abuse, and strong language
This story sucked me in until its horrifying conclusion. The protagonist, David, tells us what happened from his adult perspective, looking back. I really enjoyed this frame because it really added extra dimension to his thoughts and feelings. What he experienced was so traumatic and shocking that he has and never will get over it. And how could he? Imagine falling in love with your neighbor, back when you were a child and kids played outside and went over to each other’s homes. You watch the progression of what happens to her. On one hand you can’t believe it, so you slip into a kind of denial. On the other hand you don’t really know what you can do about it, since you’re just a kid. The novel explores what it’s like to be complicit in abuse and torture and how guilt takes hold when you know about something and not only let it happen, but also look on as a bystander. The idea of power and who has it and why is a powerful theme, and so is the concept that human beings are capable of unspeakable depravity. And, since it’s based on a true story, the reality of this couldn’t be any more real.
I won’t spoil the end, but I have to tell you that I was biting my nails while reading it. David finally decides to do something to save the girl he loves before she is lost to him forever. Ketchum’s skill as a horror writer kicks into high gear at this point. I couldn’t read fast enough to find out what took place. Is David able to rescue his damsel in distress? What happens to the aunt and the kids who keep her in a dungeon while tormenting her to the worst degree? Well, David tells us. He also updates us on what has happened to all those kids over the years, since he’s kept track of them through the papers. All I can say is that Ketchum wraps everything up for us, leaving us with the subconscious urge to be on the lookout for abuse and violence in order to do the right thing—and quickly!
Image(1)/ Nathan Thomas Milner