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The Girl Next Door (novel): Wikis


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The Girl Next Door  
Author Jack Ketchum
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Crime
Publisher Warner Books
Publication date 1989
Media type Paperback
ISBN 0446349097

The Girl Next Door was written by author Jack Ketchum in 1989. It is loosely based on the true story of the murder of Sylvia Likens in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1965.



The story takes place in 1950s suburban America, and is told in flashback form by the narrator, David.

After giving the reader a quick tour of his neighborhood and childhood friends, David introduces Ruth, a single mother and alcoholic, amongst other things. Ruth has, over time, gained the trust of the neighborhood children by allowing them to come freely into her home, play as rough as they wish, and even drink an occasional beer with her.

Fast forward to Meg and Susan, Ruth's nieces, who come to live with their aunt after the death of their parents. All seems well at first: the girls make friends with the other children and David begins to develop feelings for the sweet and innocent Meg.

However, Ruth's mental state has been deteriorating over time, and the burden of having two more children to care for seems to accelerate her descent into madness.

Ruth begins verbally, then physically, abusing the two girls, often while the other neighborhood children are watching. Then she allows the other children to abuse them, making them feel that because they have the permission of an adult, their actions are okay and will not be punished.

Finally both Meg (who is severely injured and near death) and Susan find themselves locked up in the bomb shelter in Ruth's basement, and David realizes that he must do something before time runs out and he loses the first girl he ever loved. However, despite his efforts, his plan to rescue the girls is foiled by Ruth and the neighborhood children under her control. After one final act of torture, Meg dies, shortly before the police arrive. As he and Ruth are being led upstairs, David sees Ruth wearing Meg's mother's wedding band, and, remembering a promise to get it back to Meg, and being filled with rage at Ruth due to her evil, pushes Ruth down the stairs, thus killing her. The officer near David realizes he did this intentionally, but, knowing how evil Ruth was, he claims that the fall was accidental, so David is never prosecuted. As he grows up he tracks the whereabouts of the other children who helped to torture Meg, discovering that they have either died young as a result of reckless lifestyles or have gone on to lives of poverty and crime. After reading of a brutal crime spree perpetuated by one of the now grown children, David is left to wonder what has become of the children he was unable to track.

Based on actual events

Sylvia Likens and her younger sister Jenny were left in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski, a single mother of seven children, by their parents, who were traveling carnival workers. As the months passed, Sylvia became the target of horrendous abuse at the hands of Baniszewski, who not only senselessly beat the young girl, but allowed her children to do so, as well as the neighborhood children who frequently visited the household. The final days of young Sylvia's life were spent locked in the basement of the home, where she was tied up, starved, beaten and tortured.

Only three months after arriving in the home, Sylvia Likens succumbed to her injuries and died.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

A feature film based on Ketchum's novel was released in 2007. Entitled Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door, the film stars Blanche Baker, Blythe Auffarth, William Atherton, and Daniel Manche. It was directed by Gregory Wilson from a screenplay by Daniel Farrands and Philip Nutman. After a successful series of screenings at film festivals around the world, the film was released by Starz Home Entertainment on December 4, 2007. The film is available on DVD and will be released on Blu-Ray on February 2, 2010.

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