There’s been a bit of buzz around Girl A by Abigail Dean. That can be both a good and bad thing. I read it earlier than planned as I was excited about it, but at the same time I probably had heightened expectations as a result.
For much of this book I wasn’t sure if I was reading about a cult, or about kidnapped children. Dean keeps it pretty vague for a while and readers are on edge, recognising that we don’t have the full story. Waiting for more.
by Abigail Dean
Published by Harper Collins
Source: Harper Collins
Genres: Psychological Thriller, General Fiction
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.
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 six siblings – and with the childhood they shared.
The book is narrated by Alexandra (Lex), Girl A. We learn the children were known as, Boys A – D and Girls A – C. In order of age. After their rescue fifteen years earlier attempts were made to keep their identities secret and lives private, but though some like Lex preferred anonymity, some opted to live firmly ‘in’ the spotlight.
I spent much of the book wondering why Lex and her family had attracted so much attention, and I know it sounds terrible that I wanted more trauma than initially offered. There’s mention of the kids being chained up at some point but for much of their childhood it seemed they (just) lived with an incredibly strict delusional father and a subservient mother.
I couldn’t entirely understand how the Gracie family was viewed with such horror. And in some ways it’s probably a lesson in extremism. How someone (‘Father’ in this instance) who’s very religious and rigid and in his beliefs—which he is in their younger years—can be influenced by others and those traits magnified to terrorise those around them.
So eventually we get some more insight into Father’s disintegration as his disappointments mount and understand how dire the last couple of years of the kids’ lives were in the Gracie house of horrors.
And of course we also learn more about Lex and her siblings. How they dealt with ‘life’ with Mother and Father and how they thrived – or otherwise – after they were freed. There’s something really interesting about the way each of the siblings handle what’s happened to them and who they’ve become as a result.
I must confess the layout confused me a little at times, as Dean introduces a new sibling and there’s usually a flashback. Sometimes however some of that is from Lex’s point of view (as a child) or we’ve switched back to Lex in the present and it’s not been clear. I’m not sure if it’s as simple as layout or formatting. I was really only confused once or twice when something didn’t make sense and I had to re-read it and realise the memory had finished and we were back in the present.
Dean writes well and her background in law means that element (and Lex’s world) feels realistic. But it took a very long time for me to get really engaged in this book. It’s an enjoyable read but I think I’d introduce more of the detail about the family’s final years earlier, even just via more references to how bad things get, so there’s more of a sense of menace or dread. Of course whether that makes what comes more powerful or whether it means it’s too little too late might vary from reader to reader.
There’s a great twist towards the end and I’d certainly keep that there as it’s quite shocking and Dean does a good job at having the now and then meet at the perfect time. However, because I enthusiastically read this a while ago I went back to some of the earlier chapters to re-read them to write this review. In retrospect, now that I know the twist I would probably suggest some changes to formatting of earlier chapters. I feel like we should be able to go back and re-read it knowing the whole context and realise we were fooled, rather than have it not make sense. Again however, that’s only on re-reading and not something you’d be aware of at the time.
Girl A by Abigail Dean will be published in Australia by Harper Collins and available from 20 January 2021.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.