Girl A by Abigail Dean

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Lex is a force to be reckoned with, a company lawyer, based in New York who knows what she wants and seems perfectly in control. But she is also one of the seven Gracie children, neglected, abused and chained to their beds in the 'House of Horrors' at Moor Wood Road. Alexandra, designated 'Girl A', by the investigation that followed her escape, aged 15, is back in England because her mother has died in prison and the director has requested an interview. Lex has been appointed executor in her mother's will, a role which necessitates contacting her siblings, each adopted by a different family, each assigned a different psychologist, each assimilating what happened in a different way and with whom she has had limited or no contact. As she decides what to do, Lex looks back on their imprisonment and abuse, reflecting on her relationship with her brothers and sisters as they were then and the various ways they have been shaped by their experiences since.

The 'House of Horrors' story is based on an actual horrific family abuse case but the description of the family's gradual descent into the worst conditions imaginable, while detailed and specific is never sensationalised. What is profoundly moving are the psychological journeys of these children indelibly marking their adult lives.  As she visits each of her siblings Lex delves deeper into their shared experience of childhood trauma in a layered narrative which cleverly blends the timelines, regressing as she breaks down some of the walls erected for her own protection. The author carefully builds her character studies from the start and consistently sustains them throughout the narrative. I found them believable and tragic, damaged but resilient. I immediately turned back to the start to see how this beautifully crafted book was put together and a second reading was rewarding. Senior students and adults will enjoy the book with warnings about sexual content and traumatic abuse of children.

Themes: Siblings, Family, Psychology, Abuse, Resilience.

Sue Speck