I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Scott. In fact, Perfect You was one of my favorite girly books last spring. She usually places her characters in slightly off-kilter situations (a girl who’se mom works as a thief, or dad has quit his job to sell vitamins).
In many ways, her latest offering, Living Dead Girl falls in line with her previous work. But the truth is, while it might conform in the most basic ways, it leaves her previous novels far behind.
One thing I enjoy about her work is her subtelty. She pulls her readers into a story that is always much deeper than excpected. Her characters tend to be, in some way, hiding. In Perfect You, for example, Kate feels invisible, and while that can suck, she also uses that invisibilty as a comfort blanket of sorts. She hides behind it. In Stealing Heaven, Dani is forced to hide. She’s always on the run with her mom, casing houses, robbing them, and sneaking away in the night. They live on teh fringes of society, constantly observing, but rarely participating.
In Living Dead Girl, Alice too hides. She hides from the neighbors, for fear that, if they learn the truth, she and her family will be killed. She hides from Ray, trying to remain as small and quiet as possible, so as not to attract his attention, good or bad. Most of all, she hides from herself. She retreats so far away from her own feelings, trapping herself in layers of dirt, in Soap Operas and talk shows, in striving to fulfill Ray’s demads so that, if she’s lucky, he’ll move on with his new Alice and leave her behind.
The story itself, one of kidnapping, abuse, pedophilia, crazies, has been told. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard it told like this. Alice is not the typical charicature of a victim. She does not find bravery within herself, or learn to deal with the pain through memories of her home and the hope that someday she’ll return. She knows life as she knew it has ended, and the only thing she has to look forward to is death. Yet she can’t bring herself to die, hard as she sometimes tries. Because, as much as she represses it, refuses to admit its existence, hope is there, very deeply stored.
And though she’s been tortured into something not quite human, a “living dead girl,” in the end, she proves there’s something, some vestige of humanity, that remains. Though the ending is left vague, both hope and compassion come through in unexpected ways, without the sentimentality or contrivance of a joyful homecoming, or a completely recovery.
This is a dark book, and incredibly intense. Many of the reviews have commented on the fact that it’s impossible to read it straight through. You have to put it down, take a break, from time to time. But when you pick it back up, you’re immediately sucked back into Alice’s cruel, empty world.
On top of the difficult topic and gruesome characters, Scott takes genre and twists it on its head, mixing verse and prose, and creating a voice that is at once detached from the situation and highly real.
Younger teens might have difficulty with both the subject matter and the intense description. But for those who are drawn to the book, who are interested in reading it, I highly, highly, highly recommend it.