‘Girl A,’ she said. ‘The girl who escaped. If anyone was going to make it, it was going to be you.’
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.
To say that I ‘enjoyed’ this book would be disingenuous. It is not a story to be enjoyed. It is sad, horrific and touching. It’s a hard and brutal read at times. Having said that it is brilliantly written – the language is exquisite – but I found it very stressful to read. I was constantly dreading what ‘Father’ might do next. Would there be no light in the darkness?
If you live near me in Gloucestershire you will no doubt remember the story of ‘Britain’s most sadistic mother’ – Eunice Spry – and the three foster children who she starved, beat, tried to drown, shoved sticks and knives down their throats and made them eat their own vomit. They were ‘tortured in the name of God.’ I met one of them in 2014. What a lovely person – I hope he has a better life than the Gracie children. Spry was jailed in 2005, after being convicted of 26 counts of child abuse. She was sentenced to 14 years, but only served seven and was released in 2014. Who would sympathise or forgive her? So why would anyone forgive Lex’s mother? I was annoyed that Bill expected Lex to visit and try to understand. At one point he says that Mother suffered too but obviously not enough to keep her out of prison.
But back to the story. I don’t understand why the children were separated after they escaped and advised not to find each other. They were each placed with a different family and treated by different doctors and psychiatrists in different ways. They had no contact with each other for years. I am not an expert so I am sure there was a good reason but it felt like something from the 1950s. Keep them apart for their own good.
Initially I wasn’t too keen. It’s all a bit depressing with no resolution in sight. How could there be? Lex is quite hard to like initially, as is Ethan. But just over half way through I became more and more engrossed until I really couldn’t put it down. It’s written from Lex’s point of view, even the stories that involve the others. Most of it is about now – Mother has died and left Lex and her siblings the house and £20,000 which Lex wants to use to build a Community Centre. But she must get the others to sign an agreement and therefore has to contact them one by one. The story of their childhood is told in flashbacks. Mother forever pregnant, Father unsuccessful in all his ventures, descending further into madness. The children moved and then home-schooled, eventually bound, chained and starved.
I read till well past midnight, leaving only the last few pages so I wouldn’t wake up having totally forgotten what I had been reading. I kept thinking of Eunice Spry’s children and hope they have fared better. I pray they are happy.
Many thanks to #NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
About 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 Girl A ahead of her thirtieth birthday. She now works as a lawyer for Google and is writing her second novel.