Living Dead Girl, by Elizabeth Scott
Simon Pulse – September 9, 2009 – Paperback – 170 pages
Source: Personal Collection
This book is a stunner. I am not even sure what to begin saying about it except that I started reading it, and couldn’t tear myself away. The only reason that I didn’t finish this book in one sitting is that I had to go out and meet a friend. Needless to say, I was a little late to that meeting. I picked it up the first thing this morning and finished it very quickly. I am in awe.
Living Dead Girl is not the type of book that you can say that you enjoy. The subject matter is grim and Scott never flinches in this brutally honest portrayal of Alice, a fifteen year old girl who is abducted from the aquarium during a school field trip when she is just ten years old. No one is more aware than Alice that she had been thoroughly damaged through the years of of vicious beatings, rapes and starvation that she has to endure from her captor, Ray, a man that her neighbors think is her father. The corrosive and soul destroying effects of her situation make it all but impossible for Alice to hold on to her humanity, and especially her individual identity. There was an “Alice” before her and now Ray wants her to find a replacement, which will mean her own death- a death that Alice welcomes.
Scott has crafted an amazing character and Alice’s voice is so very strong and present that you always feel where she is coming from. Even though most of the choices that she has in her life are limited and at times despicable, you empathize with her and wonder how it would even be possible to do or feel differently in her circumstances. Alice’s moments of personal power are few and far between, and it is hard to begrudge her those brief opportunities to exercise control in a way that we take for granted.
One of the strengths that stand out for me in Living Dead Girl is the way that Scott holds the reader accountable for pointing fingers and assigning blame in experiences we can’t possibly understand. We don’t look closely and investigate other experiences that seem difficult and more scary than our own. There is a communal blindness that allows this type of wrongness and abuse to continue for as long as it does. Through Alice, Scott addresses the way we as a society question victims and hold them responsible for not escaping their captors, for not speaking up more, for not telling people about the trouble that they are in. This novel is probably as close as any of us will ever come to knowing why these things don’t happen. We refuse to see and then we blame them for not being rescued.
This is a difficult read, and while I see its value I also cringed in its presence. As I read, I wondered to whom I would recommend this book and what purpose it might serve. I gained something in sharing in Alice’s experience – a bit of depth that might not have existed before which will hopefully translate into a longer look at people I encounter and where they are really coming from, that will hopefully translate into more compassion. Still, I am hesitant to make that choice for another , and say read this.
This is a young adult fiction novel, and even though the author says that teens are aware of what’s going on in the world (which I agree, they are) I would be hard pressed to put this in my cousin’s hands in six years, when she is sixteen. I do highly recommend this novel if you like to experience other perspectives and lives, no matter how gritty and bleak they can be. But be warned, Living Dead Girl is not for the faint of heart.