There are books that are fictional and could never happen. And then there are those books that are fictional, but could and probably already have happened. The latter, in my opinion, is the scarier of the two. Sure, an extraterrestrial clown that comes out of hibernation every 25 years to eat its fill of scared children is pretty scary, but it’ll never happen. A religiously fanatical father who starts getting paranoid and insane who then proceeds to lock up his children in their rooms until one day the oldest daughter breaks free and seeks help… now that is truly scary simply because it could happen and has in some variation.
That’s the backstory of Girl A, the debut novel by Abigail Dean.
Protagonist Lex Gracie grew up in her parent’s House of Horrors. After her escape, she’s known as Girl A. She’s the eldest sister who freed her older brother and four younger siblings. The story begins when Lex arrives at her mother’s prison. Her mother has died and left the house and some money to her children. Lex, being the executor of the will, has to decide what to do with the House of Horrors.
Lex and her sister, Evie, decide to turn the home into a community center, something to counter the evils they grew up with.
There’s only one problem. Lex has to get the signatures of her other siblings before anything can be done. So Lex travels to find them and get their signature for the community center. As Lex travels, the narrative shifts from past to present, explaining the atrocities the children had to endure.
While not action packed, the narrative is reliant on the characters and how they deal with their damaged psyches. Each sibling, Lex included, is far from whole and Girl A explores each of their scars and how that effects how the siblings interact together.
The pacing of the novel was steady and the use of shifting from past to present was effective in keeping the reader engaged throughout the harrowing read. Dean does an excellent job showing the slow mental breakdown and paranoia of the father and how the rest of the family submitted to his tyrannical rule.
The characters of the novel were fleshed out and seemed like they could actually be real people. Each sibling has a unique problem they’ve gained from surviving the House of Horrors that makes the reader sympathize with them.
Readers will be reminded of true crime television shows as they read this novel. There’s an interesting observation made by Dean about the fact that people like to delve into the dark side of humanity. They like to watch the car crashes. They like to go to conventions and listen to people giving speeches about what they suffered. They like to purchase memorabilia so that they can have a piece of that horror. Ironically, if you enjoy Dean’s debut book then you might just be one of those people. Because, it seems like Girl A might have been based on true events.
If you do some research, you’ll find that a very similar case occurred in 2018 with the Turpin family. The mother and father held their thirteen children captive for years. Their 17-year-old daughter jumped out of a window and sought help. It was described as a “house of horrors.” It seems that Dean might have used that case as inspiration for Girl A since many of the details are close to the Turpin’s.
Overall, I thought this was a sad, but enjoyable tale with an unexpected ending. For those that are triggered by accounts of child abuse, this might be a book you want to steer clear from.
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