TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
"Living Dead Girl" is such a devastating, stark, painful novel that, almost a day later, I'm still thinking about it. This book about a kidnapped, brutalized teen girl renamed "Alice" by her captor is easily one of the best teen novels to come out in 2008. While the subject matter is incredibly heavy, I think (hope) there is a high school audience out there for it.
When we meet Alice, she's been Ray's prisoner for over five years, since he abducted her at an aquarium while she was on a class field trip. After experiencing Ray's sadistic cruelty for so long — Alice has continually been beaten, raped, starved, and isolated — she is dead in just about every way. Alice feels almost nothing anymore, and she has long since had the last glimmers of hope beaten out of her by Ray. At this point, with Alice fifteen and no longer able to meet Ray's twisted little girl fantasies, she knows he will soon dispose of her. Alice longs for that time when she will, at last, be fully dead.
Ray uses Alice to find his next victim, utilizing the same combination of violence and fear that has enslaved her for years. But while Alice is out scouting potential girls in the park, she discovers that, amazingly, some small piece of herself still wants to live — and still believes that's possible.
For a short, spare novel, the impact of "Living Dead Girl" is incredible. Author Elizabeth Scott has made Alice a believable, haunted, tragic character. She withstands years of torment yet is not depicted as an exceptionally brave or stoic girl. Instead, Alice miserably endures, day after day, as just a shell of a person dragging through life. In other words, she exists because that's all that is left for her, which is powerful stuff. When Alice enjoys brief moments of inflicting pain or wielding power over others (a boy in the park, a little girl looking to retrieve a lost notebook), it really drives home the miserable cycle of abuse.
My only complaint — and it's a minor one, I'll admit — revolves around a bit of Ray's back story. Like many abusers of children, Ray has continually threatened to kill Alice's real family members if she ever tries to escape. (Once, long before, Alice made a desperate attempt at freedom, only to be ignored by a store clerk.) The threat reinforces Ray's power over every aspect of Alice's life, and for most abused children, that threat alone is sufficient. In this novel, Ray has actually killed the family of his first abducted girl years after her disappearance. This bit of characterization struck me as patently false. Ray is enough of a monster solely for the horrific ways he treats Alice, making all his threats of future violence credible enough to stand alone. He's also the worst kind of coward, preying on and terrorizing defenseless children. Making him a murderer on top of all this seemed wholly unnecessary.
If you give "Living Dead Girl" a try, please recognize that the story here is quite intense. While the details of Alice's abuse are not gratuitous, what is revealed, even discretely, can be very difficult to read. Mature teens should be able to handle this novel, and I'm sure they, too, will be thinking about it long afterward.