Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Sunday Salon - In Which Living Dead Girl Dies a Horrible Death


Good Sunday morning everyone! And welcome to another rousing round of The Sunday Salon. So before I get to the point, I have to tell you a story.
Last night I was fiddling with some things on my dresser...examining some books, lighting a candle, etc. I heard a noise behind me and turned around just in time to see Daisy knock a lamp off the nightstand. It then crashed into a wooden game/decoration table stacked with books where the heavy frosted glass shade shattered into a gazillion pieces. She darted under my feet, knocked me over, I screamed, and my mom arrived on the scene to see me, Daisy, a bazillion books, and a field of broken glass scattered across the room.
The dog has talent. I'll give her that. I was just about to start The Graveyard Book when all the excitement went down, but Daisy and I were both so flustered that by the time I cleaned up the entire room, we curled up on the couch and watched Iron Chef until bedtime. Never a dull moment in this house.
But back to books...
When I should've been grading papers yesterday, I was curled up in the sunroom with Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl, and I fear I'm in the minority, since I have to give this one a big ole two thumbs down. Now, keep in mind, I read young adult literature like a person with a Masters specialty in children's lit. I can't help myself...it's how I was trained. Generally, I'm not looking for a good story necessarily, but how the book fits into the overall trends in young adult lit, "problems" that are worth discussing like ideological hiccups and contradictions, and I'm generally looking for the big "so what?" What does the book accomplish that's worth teaching and discussing? Alas, Living Dead Girl registers on my scale as a moot point. But here's a blurb before I tear into it more:
"Alice" is 10 years old when a man named Ray kidnaps her from an aquarium where her class is on a field trip. Over the course of five years he starves Alice to keep her tiny and looking as little girlish as possible, he beats her, he rapes her, he controls her in every way. He tells her what to wear (little girl dresses until she outgrows them), when to bathe, and how to touch him. He tells her that he will kill her family if she ever runs away. He shows her newspaper clippings of her family, her funeral, and generally terrifies the living daylights out of her until she is completely under his control. She longs to die, but she eventually finds out that Ray's plans for her may be much more sick and twisted than death.
So, sounds like a real upper, huh? It's just as unpleasant as it sounds, and I can't claim to pooh-pooh a book just because it's unpleasant. A number of books I've read for courses, discussed with classes, and retain on my keeper shelves are depressing as hell. Push, by Sapphire comes to mind as one of the most supremely unpleasant but highly discussable and teachable books I've ever read. And if we're talking about pedophile books (watch the Google hits flow in from that one) I loved Lolita.
On the whole, the reviews I've seen for this book are positive and I can understand why. It's a very readable book. I knocked it off in a few hours. Would've been quicker but I had to take a nap in the middle. You have to know what happens, for sure. It's certainly involving and horrifying. However, it's like watching a car accident, and all of those potentially positive attributes I listed above weren't enough for me to think it a good book. I'm not sure what this book is trying to accomplish. I can guess based on my own interpretations and Elizabeth Scott's podcast, that she's trying to make a point about control and not blaming the victim, but I think most of us know not to blame the victim...especially when she's 10, kidnapped, and abused in every conceivable way. So, that's a big fat moot point. It's a "duh."
I guess my problem with this book is that it's packed with sensational violence and abuse, and there's no shred of hope for Alice. She's a living dead girl, just as the title suggests. Ray is pure evil.
So what's the point? I don't always require that a book be hopeful to give it a good review, but it is nice when there's an element of writerly nuance, some threads of meaning to tease out of the book, but this one struck me as an unwavering bash over the head with the horrible stick. I don't think Scott accomplished much of anything except a grossfest. Violence for violence's sake, if you will.
I can only compare this book to Lolita because, honestly, how many pedophile books does one run across? I enjoyed Lolita for Nabokov's humor, the intense writing, and his unnerving ability to somehow humanize the perpetrator, Humbert Humbert. Given, Lolita is decidedly an adult book as opposed to YA, but YA, as all of us who read it regularly know, does not have to be oversimplified. Living Dead Girl could've been much more, and that's one of many things that disappointed me.
Now, having looked over Scott's website, I think she's a lovely, fun person. I would love to read some of her other work sometime for the sake of comparison, but overall I would say Living Dead Girl is a bust.
If you've read it, leave a comment because I would love to hear your take on it.

22 comments:

  1. No...I haven't read it. And after that review, I doubt I will. I never could get into Lolita. Too much of that "ick" factor for me. Expecially now that I have little girls. It just doesn't appeal to me. And with all the books out there I want to read, I just don't think I want to waste my time on a book that I'm afraid I will hate!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Stephanie, it's definitely a conversation starter! Since I know you pretty well through the blogs these last few years and as you're a mom to young girls, I think you'd find it disturbing. It seemed more overt than Lolita to me. I don't think it's inappropriate for teens to read by any stretch of the imagination, I just didn't think the writing was great.

    ReplyDelete
  3. And, of course, you know how I feel about it (http://bookwrites.blogspot.com/). A book doesn't have to have a point for me to enjoy it. Life doesn't always have a point but I still enjoy it. Kind of. When you read some of Scott's books, let me know. I think I'd like to try them as well

    ReplyDelete
  4. That entire topic can be heavy and make you feel sick. I would recommend The Lovely Bones, but it was hard to read. Lolita was beautiful and a breeze to read each and every time. Nabokov is just a genius. He'd be hard to be compared against. Thank you for being honest about your feelings. A bet that there hasn't been a book yet that has wowed everyone.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm Sunday Salon-ing and ran across your post. I haven't read this book, but I can definitely see your point. Based on your description, I can think of no reason to subject myself to this book. I had a hard time getting through The Lovely Bones, but at least it had some redeeming qualities once the initial crime is committed. This one seems pointless.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks, LH! I read The Lovely Bones a few years ago, and I didn't care for that one either. Although, in all fairness it was 1) because it was a bad time in my personal life to be reading it 2) I'd read a book with a similar premise that I liked a lot better. While I'm sure mine won't be a popular opinion when it comes to Living Dead Girl, different strokes for different folks, right? :D

    ReplyDelete
  7. Shannon, I would agree with you in regards to The Lovely Bones. Even though I didn't love it, there was definitely some loveliness in the end.

    As for Living Dead Girl, like Susan said in an earlier comment, not every book has to have a lofty goal or purpose, but LDG seemed gratuitous. That bugged.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Andi, thanks for this honest review. I don't think I could bear to read this book...it sounds simply to hopeless and painful to me.

    I'm not sure this is appropriate for young adults ?? I've been away from reading that genre for a long time, but does this "fit in" as you said, with what young adult writers are focusing on these days?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi, Becca...

    I do think this is appropriate for young adults. The age advisory is actually for 16 and up, and I think that's completely fine. If I were to liken this to another "heavy" YA book, I might compare it to The Book Thief. There was a lot of bleakness in The Book Thief (although I loved that book and thought it a far "better" book), but TBF was far more hopeful and cohesive.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I haven't read it (probably won't), but after all the raving, it's interesting to see someone swim against the tide. Swim away!! :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. I haven't read this yet but I have it on my TBR list. Hmm...I guess I'll see when I get to it. Your dog is too cute!

    ReplyDelete
  12. You are a brave one to be a dissenting voice on this one. Personally, I loved it and highly recommend that everybody read it. I live in Utah and when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped it was HUGE, HUGE, HUGE! The day she was found all of my classes in college were canceled so we could watch TV. I, along with everybody else all asked the same question: She had so many opportunities to escape. How come she didn't? I had her in the back of my mind the entire time I read Living Dead Girl. I thought it was fascinating to get into a victim's head that way and attempt to answer that question.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I haven't read it, but the reviews I've read it of it haven't made me want to track it down. It just sounds far too bleak and disturbing.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks, Melissa! I'm a swimmer! lol

    Looking forward to your thoughts on it, Samantha!

    Natasha, good points, and I can see where you're coming from. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. Alas, it just didn't have the same effect on me.

    Michelle, it is that! I don't shy away from disturbing generally, but this just didn't work for me.

    ReplyDelete
  15. "an unwavering bash over the head with the horrible stick" - best line in a post I've see in a long time.

    I'm glad to see someone going against the tide on this one. I haven't read it, and don't want to read it, but there's been so much written in favour of it that I was getting twitchy.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Oh dear! Looks like Daisy got herself in a little trouble! I don't blame you for not cracking open a book after cleaning up that mess. I'd be pretty exhausted too.

    Anya's latest stunt is not nearly as destructive, but it gets to be frustrating after awhile. She likes to play with the piles of clothes I've just folded, knocking them down, bunching them up, and sometimes laying on them if the mood strikes. I'm used to the laying part as that's Parker's favorite past-time (I've become quite adept at getting my black slacks hung up before he as a chance to get to them first).

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hmm. I don't think I need to read this. I can imagine myself what horrors these victims go through as well as hear about it on the news. It does sound rather mature for a YA audience.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'm back and forth on wanting to read this one. The first review made me think "No way!" then Natasha's review made me want to read it, and now I'm leaning the other way. I have it on my paperbackswap wish list, but I'm not near getting it yet so I have a while to decide.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Sorry about the sucky review and crazy dog moment. I am sure you will enjoy the next book you read much more.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I just finished this and therefore am still processing my thoughts on it, but I think I'm heading the same way you did. It doesn't help that I have a little girl and I'm trying not to use that to form my opinion, but I don't think I'll be able to help it. I just flat out didn't like it. It goes beyond the writing, the point she was trying to get across, it goes beyond all of that to simply being one of the most horrific novels I've ever read. It's going to be a hard one for me to find anything to like about.

    ReplyDelete
  21. It's been a while since I read this but I recall just the opposite. Being impressed that Scott did NOT go into gratiutious detail about the violence and abuse. But then again it's been awhile since I read it, I could be remebering wrong.

    There was a lot of discussion of this book on the American Library Association's Young Adult Services listserv. It seems that a lot of the librarian's teens were interperting the ending differntly.
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *Spoiler room
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    Where a lot of the adults who read this book read it as she dies at the end, a lot of the teens that read it interperted it that there was a chance she lived. Again, it's been so long since I read it that I'd have to re-read to discuss it more. But I thought the interpertation of the ending was interesting!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for taking the time to comment! I respond to comments individually by e-mail and/or here on the site. "No reply" bloggers will automatically receive a response here. I value community above all else in blogging, and talking with you all is the highlight of my blogging day!