Thursday, February 17, 2011

In All Seriousness [Living Dead Girl]

This story is seriously fucked up. The last time I recall being emotionally disturbed by a book was in October when I read Stolen by Lucy Christopher. Living Dead Girl is way more shocking. (On all accounts, Stolen is also a pretty fucked up book, but I was more disturbed by my reaction to the ending than by the actual story itself. I may re-read and talk about it in future, but we'll see.)

Living Dead Girl, narrated mostly in 1st person, is about Alice. Alice is a 15 year old girl living with a man named Ray. When she was 10, Ray abducted her during a school trip. For the past 5 years, he has been mentally and physically abusing Alice. He takes her real name, starves her, sexually abuses her, beats her and breaks her mind. All she wants is to leave him (either bodily or through death), but he threatens to kill the family he took her from if she ever tries to go. Now that her body no longer resembles that of a child, Alice knows that her time with Ray is coming to an end because she is not the first girl he has taken. She has been so broken by Ray that she will do anything he wants to make him leave her alone. What he wants is almost more horrific than what he has already done to her.

Living Dead Girl is nominally YA Fiction. I know that Elizabeth Scott is a YA author but I do wonder if it was classified as YA only because the narrator is a 15 year old girl. It's not mis-categorized precisely, but it's so intense that if I had read this in my teens, I would have been crying for a week. Young people are way more resilient than they are often given credit for, but honestly, this story was so distressing that I could barely sleep after reading it. I felt (and still feel) a little nauseated and weepy. I don't regret reading it, but I do think it will live in my head a lot longer than I want it to.

The weird thing is that the writing is so spare that it's almost euphemistic. Because it's so simple, it drives home the fact that Alice, despite everything that has been done to her, is still very much a child. She has not been in school for 5 years and as a result, still has a child's grasp of language. Alice's desperation and hopelessness is so much more because she isn't dressing things up with fancy words. She is simply telling her life as she experiences it.

I say read it. It's not a happy story and there are no heroes but it is powerful. I've written and re-written this because I keep getting swept away by the horror of Alice's story and losing sight of what Elizabeth Scott is saying: That the easy part is telling victims that they didn't try hard enough. The hard part is that we have to listen even when someone doesn't (or can't) use words to ask for help. That we have to look and not be so caught up in our own shit that we can't see other people.

I haven't read anything else by Elizabeth Scott, but from what I've seen, this book is drastically different from her other work. I'm grateful for that because I'd like to read her other books and if they were anything like this one, I wouldn't be able to. I need something happier to soothe my heart. Ideally, something with rainbows, unicorns, and elves. And maybe a dragon or two.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott


  1. Great review, I loved, "...we have to listen even when someone doesn't (or can't) use words to ask for help."

    Too deep for Young Adults?

  2. Nope, no way. The subject is a very hard one to discuss, but I don't think that it benefits anyone to behave as if young people can't understand the message.