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.