Thursday, November 5, 2009

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Living Dead Girl
Elizabeth Scott
ISBN 978-1-4169-6059-1
170 pages
Simon Pulse, 2008

Genre: Issue Novel, Sexual Abuse

Readers Annotation
Abducted by a pedophile when she was ten, Alice fears he may kill her now that she has turned fifteen.

Plot Summary
When she was ten, Ray abducted her from a school field trip. He raped her, beat her, and renamed her Alice. She tried to escape and ask for help, but Ray told her that if she ever ran away, he'd kill her parents. That's what he did to the parents of the previous Alice, whom he also kidnapped as a small girl. When she reached age 15, he tired of her and killed her, too.

Now Alice is 15 herself. She's spent the past five years as Ray's sex slave, hiding in plain sight and anaesthetizing herself on trashy TV. He starves her to help her maintain a childlike figure, but she knows it's inevitable that she will soon grow too old for Ray, and then he will kill her, too.  Alice longs for death; she's a living dead girl, a shell of a person. When Ray decides she'll help him find a replacement Alice, she learns whether or not there's any of the old girl, the one who lived with parents who loved her, left inside her.

Critical Annotation
Living Dead Girl is a short but incredibly haunting story. Scott tells it mostly from Alice's first-person point of view, but opens the story by describing Alice's life in a third-person view and in a second-person view. This helps the reader get inside Alice's head and figure out why exactly she never runs for help, even though she has multiple opportunities to do so. It also implicates the reader as part of a general society that has let Alice down. Though Ray has been the one who has raped and abused her for five years, people at large have continually let her down--from the gas station clerk who dismissed her when she tried to run for help to the neighbors who for years have ignored the clearly starved and neglected girl in front of their eyes.

Throughout flashbacks, Alice explains how she unwittingly became Ray's victim and what she has had to endure over the past five years. Though the reader feels great pain over Alice's situation, eventually the reader also comes to understand how immensely and irrevocably damaged Alice is. Desperate to survive after years of abuse, she is startled to realize that Ray has formed her in his own image. Ray is a fully realized villain; the reader learns why Ray is the way he is and, gradually, as Alice tells more of her story, understands just how evil he is and how he has rendered Alice completely powerless. The ending is shocking and affecting; it's a book that will stick with the reader long after the last page.

About the Author
Elizabeth Scott has written six young adult novels. Many of them are described as modern realistic romances, in the manner of Sarah Dessen; Living Dead Girl is quite a departure from her earlier work. Two of her other recent novels also take on more serious issues: Love You Hate You Miss You deals with a teen alcoholic whose best friend was killed in a car accident and Stealing Heaven deals with a teenage kleptomaniac.

Curriculum Ties
In my high school English class, we read The Collector  by John Knowles, and I can see Living Dead Girl inspiring similar lively debates. Though Alice is clearly a victim, should she be held responsible for her decision to help Ray kidnap another young girl? Is Ray a victim himself, and does he deserve any sympathy? Who has let Alice down more: Ray or the people surrounding her? If Alice escaped, what would her life look like? Why do you think Alice didn't run away or ask for help? What would you have done?

Booktalking Ideas
Honestly, this one pretty much talks itself: just tell the premise of the story, and listeners will be hooked.

Reading Interest/Level
This book's intense subject matter and graphic depictions of violence make it appropriate only for older high school readers.

Challenge Issues
The book's intense subject matter and graphic depictions of violence, including sexual violence, make it highly likely to be challenged. Librarians should be aware of their library's selection policy and be prepared to explain and defend it to the challenger.  The books numerous positive reviews, as well as its laundry list of awards, including being named one of YALSA's Best Books of 2009, could be used to defend its place as an important, albeit challenging, work for young adults.

Selection Criteria
When I saw this book on YALSA's list of the Best Books of 2009, I was drawn to the description of it.

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