The Girl Next Door (novel)

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This article is about the 1989 Jack Ketchum novel. For the 2007 film, see The Girl Next Door (2007 film).
The Girl Next Door
Author Jack Ketchum
Illustrator Neal McPheeters
Country United States
Language English
Genre Crime, Thriller, Horror
Publisher Warner Books, Overlook Connection Press, Leisure Books, Amazon Kindle
Publication date
Media type Paperback, Hardcover & E-book
Pages 370
ISBN 0-446-34909-7
Preceded by She Wakes 1989 in literature
Followed by Offspring 1991 in literature

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 United States, 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 with three sons (Willie, Donny, and Ralphie) and an 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 Ruth's nieces. Meg, a teen girl for whom David develops feelings and Susan, a young girl who got severely injured in a car accident, come to live with their aunt after the death of their parents. All seems well at first.

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 abusing Meg, calling her a slut. After an incident where Meg hits Ralphie when he touches her breast, Ruth beats Susan for "being in canivance" with Meg. When Meg tries to tell a policeman about the abuse, Ruth locks her in their bomb shelter and allows her boys to strip her, then leaves her there, bound and gagged all night. She starves her and even allows the other children to burn, beat her and even urinate in her face over the course of months, making them feel that because they have the permission of an adult, their actions are okay and will not be punished.

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 girl is foiled when Ruth catches her trying to leave when Meg tries to bring Susan with her. Ruth allows her son, Donny to rape her. Willie also wants to rape her, but Ruth refuses to let him because she thinks its incest for him to do so after his brother. Ruth carves the words "I FUCK FUCK ME" into her stomach so no man will want her then feels that she should never have any man so she decides to end her desires and gives her a clitorectomy. David decides to create a plan to get Meg, Susan, and himself out of the house alive. After one final act of torture, Meg dies, shortly after 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, vengefully 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 cause of their arrests. 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[edit]

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. They paid Gertrude Baniszewski to take care of their girls, but money slowly stopped coming in. For each missed payment the abuse of Sylvia worsened. 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, burnt and tortured.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[edit]

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 was released on Blu-ray on February 2, 2010.

External links[edit]