Ketchum's novel should make you squirm with discomfort, not because it is a horror book, but because it is horrifyingly closer to the real side of human brutality than to those fantastical drafted gore fests we sink our teeth into when our tongues require the taste of terror.
There is a novel by Luanne Rice called Stone Heart that crept into the hidden realm of Domestic Abuse without the benefit of rose colored glasses, and left me breathless in the wake of such an emotional journey.
"Girl Next Door" took me through that journey again, but this time the passage was darker and filled with unaccountable dread. "How could this happen?" you will say. "Why didn't anybody DO anything?" The tide of emotion you will feel sweeping over you, washing your pity in tears as salty as the ocean and swirling the intense sadness through your soul, will leave you touched by a profound sense of loss.
In the 1950's, life was simple for a group of neighborhood children, living in a close knit, out of the way community. David was a boy back then, when Meg and Susan Loughlin move in next door with Ruth Chandler and her three sons, after the death of their parents in a car accident that left Meg scarred and Susan crippled.
David doesn't mind playing with Ruth's boys, and often found Ruth to be quite pleasant, in that she would treat the boys as adults and even allow them beer at times. But Ruth had a legendary temper, well known throughout the neighborhood.
David is enchanted by Meg, and therefore hangs around more than ever next door, wanting to be near her. Ruth, unstable before, begins rushing down towards the pits of insanity at a noticeably accelerated pace; and makes the Loughlin girls targets for her anger-infused mania. Descending from verbal abuse, to overworking Meg at chores, to her final psychotic imprisonment of the two innocent girls, Ketchum's painting of Ruth in the colors of derangement and lunacy is vivid and realistically unsettling.
Ruth slowly begins to allow others to join her in terrorizing the girls, and though David is mortified at the scenes unfolding right in front of him, he does nothing and tells no one about Ruth's basement until it is too late. I will not divulge any further information, but with the story being told from David's viewpoint, you can feel and understand his hesitation and fear, and remember that he himself was still just a child.
In this book, you may find yourself wishing that Ketchum was less skilled in his writings, so that you wouldn't find yourself so drawn into the characters and the appalling scenario. This book will make you angry and sad, leave you feeling helpless in your inability to change the outcome, and that is exactly what you should be feeling. You will not walk away untouched. By far, one of the most riveting and revolting horror books I have ever read, well worth the money you spend.