This book was both exceptionally easy and exceptionally hard to read. Easy from the perspective that it’s short, the font is large, and the chapters are a few pages at most. Hard from the perspective that this minimalist style of writing gives you nowhere to hide. And hide is what you want to do in this book. Hide from the nightmare this girl has been living in for so long that it’s just normal for her now. So normal that when given the chance to escape, she doesn’t take it.
Alice has been living with Ray for about five years, starting when she was almost ten. She knows he’s not her father, no matter what he says. Even though she thinks the story of her life before is a lie. He’s the man that tricked the old her. The girl that used to be. He’s the man that made Alice. She’s now fifteen, and she no longer fulfills his ideals. She’s too tall. Too heavy. Too old. Too everything. She no longer fits in the tiny white dresses with the ruffled trim. Keeping her weight under 100lbs has become a constant struggle. He’s turning her into an anorexic – which she has no desire to be. When she gets the chance to eat, she does. As long as she can brush her teeth before she sees Ray again. She knows it’s not worth the pain she will feel if he catches her with food.
This book is a perfect example of how fear drives actions and becomes the most powerful motivation in a person’s life. Alice talks about watching her daily talk – episodes about women who have suffered abuse. The hosts and audience members are always asking why the woman didn’t just do something, say something, tell someone. Or just run. When they had the chance, run. Other reviewers have given this a reason for not liking the book. These are the things we all think we would do. These are the things we think anyone with strength would do. These are the moments when we use out own power to make those same women feel powerless once again. Expecting people to react in a certain way and shaming them when they don’t is just another abuse of power. These are things we don’t think about. These are things we can’t see. If we’ve never lived through an imprisonment, how on earth can we ever know how we would respond? Especially if it happened to us as a child. Especially if our capture kept threatening our family. Especially if he’s done it all before.
This is the situation where Alice finds herself. A typical spoiled child, bored and mad at her friends, trusting someone who looks like he belongs. Trusting him because he doesn’t fit the definition she’s been given for stranger danger. He isn’t being too nice or too creepy or too anything. He just looks like someone who works for the park. His shirt is similar enough that she doesn’t realize it’s not the uniform. And before she really knows what’s going on, she’s been taken and Ray begins to reform her from the girl she was to the girl she is now.
One of the things Scott does so masterfully in this book is to give us all the painful facts without delving into the details that could have made the book unreadable. Alice tells us about the rape, the blow jobs, the physical violence, the years of compounding abuse without the minutia. She goes into the starvation much more extensively. Alice talks about her hunger. Because it is new to her. The rest of it isn’t. He begins to destroy her the moment her takes her. Raping her in his vehicle. When she tries to escape, he takes her to her house and explains how he will murder her parents if she tries that again. Showing her newspaper clippings of the Alice from before her – how she died and then her family died soon afterwards. Alice stays because she is certain – Certain – that it is the only thing keeping her family alive.
She’s willing to take whatever he gives her if it keeps them alive. For five long years, she’s been protecting them. She’s been reviewing the story of the other Alice. Dead at fifteen. Counting down the days to her fifteenth birthday. When she knows she will get released. But now she’s passed that day and Ray is showing no signs of letting her go. He wants her to help him get a new girl, and she’s willing, because it means she will get to die. But that’s not what Ray has in mind. He wants to keep them both.
Alice’s story is so hopeless. There is not an ounce of hope in this story. Even when she finally thinks that maybe she can escape, she doesn’t see a bright shiny future. She doesn’t see a life with her family. She can’t go back to them. Instead, she sees prison. It’s the one place where Ray cannot get his hands on her. The best future she can envision for herself is a life of confinement. She can see no way out of that except for death. And that’s what she eventually gets, but not in the way she expected. The novel ends in the only way it really could. Alice is allowed to die. Allowed to escape. She finally admits that the little girl in her stories is her. She is Kyla. It wasn’t a lie. And now they can both finally stop suffering. It’s the most believable ending I’ve read to one of these stories in a long time.
This is one of the things that makes this book so great – its believability. So often you read these stories or watch the movies of women who have been abused for years and they all overcome everything and run away and it’s all good again. It’s all sunshine and roses. But that’s not how these stories end for so many of these women/girls. Their decision making skills and neural pathways have reformed to make their go-to responses ones that don’t make sense to the rest of us. People outside these situations think they should be able to get up and walk away. To say no. To run. They think it’s just that easy. We think it’s that easy. That we would do it differently. That we would be the kid that runs or screams or fights. That we would be Lucy. We would be the girl that gets away. But how do we know? How can we ever know? And who are we to judge?
This book will not be for everyone. Many people will find it hard to read. Or frustrating because they believe they would have done it differently. But the book is good in that way that it will stay with me for a long time. It’s dark, gritty, and painful. And it’s well worth the read.
One thing I think this book gets totally wrong is its audience. I know the main character in this book is a teen, but this is not a YA book. The people of that age do not have the life experience to understand the message. And the cautionary tale portion is far too brutal and troubling for the young people it might help. I think this is a book for adults.