This review is spoiler-free!
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.
Beautifully written and incredibly powerful, Girl A is a story of redemption, of horror, and of love.
Girl A has become a global bestseller, and unsurprisingly so. Google lawyer Abigail Dean has managed to concoct a deeply harrowing and unforgettable tale, one that is dark, shocking, and at times disturbing. Fundamentally, Girl A is about healing, specifically Lex’s attempts to heal in the decades-long aftermath of a childhood characterised by pain, suffering, and deprivation. Through frequent flashbacks we learn about the the cruelty experienced by the Gracie children, all seven, all recognisable by the shock of their blonde hair. At 11 Moor Woods Road, now known as the notorious ‘House of Horrors’, the Gracie children were subject to the erratic and abusive behaviour of their father, a fanatic with a boundless personality that went unsubdued. Over a decade later, following the death of their mother in prison, Lex and her siblings are forced to reckon with the trauma of their shared pasts.
Yet their childhoods are only shared to some extent, as the subjectivity of memory and trauma, as well as the objective differences between their experiences, has effectively cast them different roles in the wider story. As shared, intimate, and unique as their past is, their memories of it are far from unified. Some have their own special relationships, with a unique closeness between them, that was forged in the fire of their childhood – namely Lex and her little sister Evie, and Delilah and younger brother Gabriel.
A series of chapters take us through the life stories of Girls A to C and Boys A to D: Lex, Delilah, Evie, Ethan, Gabriel, Daniel, and Noah – the seven Gracie children. These chapters are all seriously well-written; Dean’s writing style accounts for peaks and troughs – making some scenes more intense than others, though the novel is consistently engrossing. Dean has a way of setting the scene that transports you directly to that time and place: Lex and Ethan in his well-lit home in Summertown, Oxford, then the next chapter: Lex and Evie in the decrepit wasteland that constituted their childhood bedroom. The depth of the abuse suffered by the siblings is something that Dean doesn’t fully explore, and this works to book’s advantage. Rather than letting the reader get caught up in sheer trauma of it all, with Dean skirting around the finer details, the reader can instead focus on how each sibling has chosen to deal with their pain, how they are healing, and how their childhood trauma has seeped into their adult relationships as a result. Even without the more minute facts and details, the characters are all fully-fledged and well-developed. They are wholly individual.
Girl A is a gripping look at collective, familial healing and how raw and complex this journey and experience can be. Lex is a fiercely convincing protagonist: she’s intriguing, with a distinctive voice and outlook on the situation. Lex is an individual, and the product of Dean’s incredible skill as an author. Dean’s writing has made for an exceptionally strong debut – making those that read Girl A excited for her next title, which she is currently working on.