Review: Girl A by Abigail Dean

All you need to know is: I devoured Girl A in a weekend. I just couldn’t stop reading this fantastic debut from Abigail Dean. It’s a psychological thriller with depth and drive. Some parts were very difficult to read but you just HAD to keep turning those pages to hear Girl A’s story.

Opening sentence: You don’t know me, but you’ll have seen my face.

Meet Girl A

The story opens with Lex Gracie (Girl A) having been made executive of her mother’s will after her mother dies in prison. Lex and her siblings are infamous for unpleasant reasons: they were held captive in their home, abused and starved by their parents. Their father ended his own life when Lex escaped aged 15 and raised the alarm. Their mother ended up in prison.

‘She wrote to you many times in those years,’ she said. ‘To you and to Ethan and to Delilah. I heard about you all. Gabriel and Noah. Sometimes she wrote to Daniel and Evie.’

What we then get is a really interesting story about what happens to people who have had an experience like this in their childhood. Each child reacts differently, remembers what happened in an individual way and are doing what they can as adults to thrive or just survive.

There are chapters about each sibling, all told through Lex’s POV, set both in the present day and in flashbacks that reveal what happened to lead their parents to commit such terrible acts against their own children. This was an excellently crafted part of the story. The abuse happened gradually, over years, to the point where, by the time it hit extreme levels, it was too late for Lex and her siblings to do anything.

Why didn’t you just leave when you had the chance?

Lex is the second eldest sibling and a damaged and complex character. Determined not to let what happened to her stop her succeeding in life, yet unable to stop the psychological damage that come with an experience. She is strong and resilient and wonderfully written.

Real-life inspiration

I have always been morbidly fascinated and appalled by real-life stories like this. I think it’s the level of corrupt human nature – I just can’t fathom that people exist who would do this. Prior to reading Girl A, I had heard of the Turpin family – a mother and father who abused and neglected their 12 children, truly horrific to read about. Author Abigail Dean says in this interview that she was partially inspired by this case.

Also, a book that sprung to mind while reading Girl A was Educated by Tara Westover. Not fiction – and not to the extreme levels of the story that Girl A tells – Educated is a memoir that details Tara’s life with her religious-zealot father who tries to contain and control his children.

The traumatic theme of Girl A is not the easiest to read about but the way Abigail Dean tells this story is wildly compelling. It is a dive into the deprived depths of human nature and the consequences for the people who are victims in that. I was totally immersed in this story and I know it will stay with me for a long time.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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