Written by: Paula Limbaugh
In honor of Jack Ketchum Appreciation Day I thought I would review one of his earlier works published in 1989. If you’re a fan of Jack Ketchum you know what you’re in for, if not be WARNED! Mr. Ketchum is an in your face, no punches pulled type of author.
The Girl Next Door is a horrific story, not in the sense of a scary boo but in the way of hearing about unspeakable abuse and being helpless to stop it. What makes this even more horrifying is the fact that this story was based on an actual crime committed in Indiana 1965. Sylvia and Jenny Likens were sent to stay with Gertrude Baniszewski in the summer of 1965. Their mother was jailed for shoplifting and their father a carny worker offered Gertrude $20 a week to care for the girls while on the road. When dad quit sending money for the upkeep of the girls, Gertrude got angry and began taking it out on Sylvia. Soon torture became a daily occurrence for Sylvia, with Gertrude encouraging her own children and a few of their friends to participate. In October of 1965 Sylvia age 16 finally succumbed to the tortures piled upon her.
In Jack’s book, 1958 we have Meg and Susan, nieces of Ruth Chandler being placed in her care. The girls and their parents had been in a car crash and the parents did not survive. Ruth is the “cool” neighborhood mom who lets all the kids hang out at her place. There they can have a beer, swear, smoke and no one is going to stop them. Ruth Chandler is a single mom with 3 boys to raise and is struggling financially. Already a bit shaky in the mental health department, the burden of two more children proves to be her undoing.
Over time Ruth begins to resent her charges, it starts off with verbal abuse and rapidly grows into physical abuse. Not satisfied abusing the girls herself, she encourages her sons to partake and eventually their friends. Ruth is always offering up a justification for her actions, smoothing the way for the other to take part. One neighborhood boy, David can no longer abide by what’s going on and hatches a plan to rescue the girls.
This story is being told by an adult David the year 2007. With the words “It’s what you do last that really counts” spoken by Meg still in his head, David retraces the events that led up to the unspeakable horrors of his childhood.
I really hope I did justice to this book; it’s one that will stay with you long after you’re done. It should be noted that a movie version of this book by the same title was released in 2007; Jack Ketchum plays a carny worker! READ IT THEN SEE IT!