#BookReview Girl A by Abigail Dean

Girl AAbout the Book

Lex Gracie doesn’t want to think about her family. She doesn’t want to think about growing up in her parents’ House of Horrors. And she doesn’t want to think about her identity as Girl A: the girl who escaped, the eldest sister who freed her older brother and four younger siblings.

It’s been easy enough to avoid her parents – her father never made it out of the House of Horrors he created, and her mother spent the rest of her life behind bars. But when her mother dies in prison and leaves Lex and her siblings the family home, she can’t run from her past any longer. Together with her sister, Evie, Lex intends to turn the House of Horrors into a force for good. But first she must come to terms with her siblings – and with the childhood they shared.

Format: Paperback (336 pages)              Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: 30th September 2021 Genre: Thriller

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My Review

Girl A was this month’s choice for the book club run by my local Waterstones. (It was also their Thriller of the Month.) I’m not completely sure I would categorise it as a thriller, although it does contain a sort of ‘twist’ that might give you a different perspective on earlier parts of the book.  For me, Girl A is more an exploration of the psychological impact of trauma.

Told mostly from the perspective of Lex, the narrative moves back and forth in time between the terrible experiences of Lex and her siblings during their time in the ‘House of Horrors’, the period following their escape, and years later after the death of their birth mother.  Since the changes in time period often occurred without any clear indication, I did find myself confused at times. Also I wasn’t sure what some of the sub-plots added to the book, such as the details of Lex’s latest work assignment, although I appreciate this does show she was able to forge a successful career as a lawyer despite her earlier experiences.

Their experiences have affected each sibling in different ways. Some have to some extent moved on from their experiences, forging new lives and relationships.  Others remain damaged, often leaving them open to manipulation. Lex herself, despite therapy and the fact it was she who ensured their escape, seems to retain a sense of guilt that she was unable to prevent the terrible things that happened to her siblings. Her response is to block out certain facts and to deny any connection between what she endured and her continuing inclination towards risky behaviour.

Most interesting for me was what, bit by bit, we learn about the dynamics between the siblings during their imprisonment; what behaviours they were forced to adopt to avoid or deflect the physical and mental abuse of their father.  The reason for their mother’s complicity is never spelled out. Was she the victim of coercive control, so consumed by love for her husband that she was prepared to tolerate his treatment of the children, or blinded by the same religious fervour that he used as justification?

Judging by other reviews, Girl A is something of a ‘Marmite’ book: some readers have loved it whilst others disliked it, or even gave up on it.  I think I’m in between in that there were elements of it I found interesting but overall it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I found parts of it uncomfortable to read to the extent it felt almost voyeuristic. Prompted by a comment from another reader, I was also surprised to find out just how much the details of the events in the ‘House of Horror’ mirror those in the real-life case of the Turpin family.

In three words: Unsettling, dark, intense

Try something similarEducated by Tara Westover

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Abigail Final ImagesAbout the Author

Abigail Dean was born in Manchester, and grew up in the Peak District. She graduated from Cambridge with a Double First in English. Formerly a Waterstones bookseller, she spent five years as a lawyer in London, and took summer 2018 off to work on her debut novel, Girl A, ahead of her thirtieth birthday. Abigail works as a lawyer for Google, and is currently writing her second novel, The Conspiracies. She has always loved reading, writing, and talking about books. (Photo: Goodreads author page)

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#BookReview Dear Child by Romy Hausmann trans. by Jamie Bulloch @Flatironbooks

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Dear Child by Romy Hausmann, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch. My thanks to Claire at Flatiron Books for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital review copy via NetGalley. Dear Child will be published in the U.S. on 6th October 2020 by Flatiron and is available for pre-order now. It was published in the UK by Quercus on 13th May 2020 and is available in hardcover, ebook and audiobook format.

Dear Child Romy HausmannAbout the Book

A windowless shack in the woods. A dash to safety. But when a woman finally escapes her captor, the end of the story is only the beginning of her nightmare.

She says her name is Lena. Lena, who disappeared without a trace 14 years prior. She fits the profile. She has the distinctive scar. But her family swears that she isn’t their Lena.

The little girl who escaped the woods with her knows things she isn’t sharing and Lena’s devastated father is trying to piece together details that don’t quite fit. Lena is desperate to begin again but something tells her that her tormentor still wants to get back what belongs to him…and that she may not be able to truly escape until the whole truth about what happened in the woods finally emerges.

Format: eARC (352 pages)                           Publisher (US): Flatiron Books
Publication date (US): 6th October 2020 Genre: Thriller

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My Review

Told from a number of different points of view, Dear Child is a twisty, suspenseful page-turner that it’s well nigh impossible to say much about without spoiling the experience for potential readers. It features many of the elements you expect to find in the psychological thriller genre whilst still seeming fresh and original. This is especially the case with one of the narrators whose voice combines innocence and a slightly chilling precision.

The storyline encompasses abduction, imprisonment and coercive control but the author chooses to major on the psychological impact of their experiences on those involved. For example, the strains on the relationship of husband and wife, Matthias and Karin, caused by the disappearance of their daughter Lena many years ago. It’s not just the despair they endure at not knowing what happened to her, or the false hopes that come to nothing but the effect of press intrusion and speculation.

Dear Child is one of those books where you can try to work out the final destination or just sit back and experience the literary equivalent of a mystery ride. In the end, I chose the latter and for a lot of the time I could identify with one of the characters who observes, “I try to arrange the pieces, but the meaning defeats me“. But, as with a jigsaw, there’s always a sense of satisfaction when the final piece is put in place.

In three words: Dark, intense, suspenseful

Try something similar: The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl

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Romy HausmannAbout the Author

Romy Hausmann was born in East Germany in 1981. At the age of twenty-four she became chief editor at a film production company in Munich. Since the birth of her son she has been working as a freelancer in television.

Dear Child is her thriller debut. Romy lives with her family in a remote house in the woods near Stuttgart. (Photo credit: Astrid Eckert)