Girl A by Abigail Dean: A review

 

I generally try to avoid books about the suffering of children and animals, especially when that suffering is caused by deliberate torture, so what am I doing reading - and enjoying - this book which is about the confinement, starvation, and torture of seven children over a period of years in a "house of horrors" by their parents? Perhaps there really are exceptions to everything.

This book grabbed me right from the first chapter and it was propulsive reading from there right through the end. It is a psychological family drama with a bit of thriller thrown in as the reader wonders how and if these children will ever escape their captivity. Well, in fact, we know they did because the book begins with the mother's death in prison and learning that she had designated her oldest daughter Alexandra ("Lex") as the executrix of her will. Lex is now a successful New York-based lawyer and she returns to England to fulfill her executrix duties.

We learn that Lex is Girl A. The children were designated by letters of the alphabet to protect their identities during the trial. Lex, who was a teenager at the time, is the one who was able to escape from the house and summon the police. Subsequently, all the surviving children were adopted, each by separate adoptive parents. Lex was adopted by one of the policemen who investigated the case. He and his wife provided a safe and loving home which gave her a start toward a successful life.

When the police swarmed the family's home after Lex's escape, (Spoiler alert) the father, who was quite mad and the main perpetrator of the abuse that the children endured, killed himself by taking poison. The plan had been for his wife to follow suit, but she didn't do it. Thus, she was the one to survive and stand trial and be sentenced for the horrors.

The children who survived learned to cope with their past in various ways. Lex and her older brother were the most successful in putting it all behind them and getting on with their lives. The youngest was still a baby at the time and never remembered any of that earlier life. It was the middle children who had the most difficulty. Now, with the death of their mother, they are all drawn back in to greater or lesser degrees because they have been jointly left the "house of horrors" where they all lived together plus twenty thousand pounds in cash. Lex must oversee the disbursement.

The author provides a multi-layered view of this whole tragic family drama. It is quite well written, especially for a debut novel. It contains an absorbing study of the characters involved and the bounds of human endurance, resilience, and the instinct for survival. Although the story is dark, bleak, and often heartbreaking, it was relieved from the first by the knowledge that Lex and others had survived and had made successes of their lives. I think that is what sustained me while reading this narrative and actually allowed me to enjoy it. Overall, it is a memorable start for this writer.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars 

Comments

  1. I found Room very hard to read, though I did complete it. Years later I still have flashbacks, very unpleasant ones. Since then I avoid stories like that.

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    1. I never read Room exactly for the reason you describe and that I mentioned in my first sentence. I can't really say why I decided to read this one, except as a way of broadening my reading horizons, but I don't regret that I did.

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  2. It does sound a little dark, I must say, but life sometimes is, isn't it? My daughter is an administrator for the Ottawa School Board, and she says the experiences of some of the Syrian refugee kids would make you weep.

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    1. Life is dark indeed for the refugees of the world and the children in this novel were refugees from their own parents. The wonder is that so many refugees do in fact manage to persevere and to live successful, meaningful lives.

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  3. The first thing I thought of when I saw the cover was the A and made me think of The Scarlet Letter. I see now there is no similarity. I do like a darker story (no animal abuse - it will make me abandon the book) so I may add this to my future reads.

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    1. Then this story may be made for you, Diane. There is also an interesting twist at the end (which I didn't mention in my review) that leaves the reader with much to consider and wondering just how Girl A's story ends.

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  4. I couldn't read this one, no matter how well written it is. These sort of stories cut me too deeply.

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  5. While this sounds like a very important story there is no way I could make it through. I'm just too sensitive.

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    1. What is most horrifying about the story is that it was actually inspired by true crime events.

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  6. Sounds like a worthy read, but one too dark for me.

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    1. I would have said it was too dark for me as well, but I don't regret reading it. The lives of the children after their rescue were very interesting to read about. Each person learned to deal with the past in his or her own individual way.

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  7. Yeah torture stories are hard to pick up! At least you knew they survived but still hard I imagine. I'm glad there were some redeeming qualities about the novel ... that you picked up. Very brave.

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    1. I am trying to get more variety into my reading and this was part of that attempt.

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