Girl A (2021) – Abigail Dean

Title:Girl A
Author:Abigail Dean
Publisher/s:Harper Collins/Jonathan Ball Publishers
Date published:2021
Star rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Jonathan Ball Publishers kindly sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review

Alexandra ‘Lex’ Gracie was one of the six siblings living in the House of Horrors on Moor Woods Road in the town of Hollowfield. She was the first to escape, and the one who alerted the authorities to the unspeakable acts that had been happening inside the house for years. These days people remember her as simply “Girl A”, and she would like nothing better than to leave behind the person she once was. In Abigail Dean’s début novel, Girl A, Lex learns just how difficult it is to completely extract oneself from the past.

Girl A is about a normal family living in a normal house. Father is a bit religious, and Mother is quiet and makes babies. Once upon a time, Mother wanted to be a reporter, but that was a long time ago. In the house on Moor Woods Road, Lex and her siblings Ethan, Evelyn, Delilah, Gabriel, and Daniel grow up with just a little less than those around them. Father’s religious inclinations systematically turned into fanaticism, and the church he started up in Hollowfield is a bitter disappointment. The church which Father named The Lifehouse eventually has to shut its doors when the only people that come to listen to his sermons are the Gracie clan, the homeless, and bored teenagers. Lex remembers that this was around the time that The Parade began…

The Parade of anger, and rage, and the start of the horrors that would begin to consume them all. Not long after his church closed its doors Father pulled all of the Gracie children out of school, and a life of darkness and fear began. Lex remembers the Binding days, and she remembers when the chains came out. In those darkest of days, Mother was nothing but a shell floating about the house and fussing with baby Daniel. In those days the children thought only of food, and very rarely of escaping until it’s all they thought about.

Its been almost 15 years since the day they were taken away from the house, and the day that their father committed suicide. The Gracie children were eventually all adopted – separately. Lex receives the news that their mother has passed away in prison and that the house on Moor Woods Road has been left to them, with Lex as the executor. With plans to turn the house into the complete opposite of what it once was, Lex just needs to get the go-ahead from her siblings all of whom are living very different lives – separately.

Ethan is now the headmaster of a school, and an author, using his past life as the victim of abuse as inspiration for his books, and is about to get married to an artist. Delilah has been married to a wealthy man for years and wants nothing to do with her siblings or the house. Evie, who was always Lex’s ally over the years is still struggling to find meaning in her life. Gabriel’s adoptive parents have been chasing fame alongside their new son since they took him in, and Daniel was just a baby when he was adopted, and no one wants him to ever know anything about where he came from. No one wants to return to Hollowfield or the House of Horrors. Except for Lex.

In the years since she escaped Lex has been seeing a psychologist and has been working through the trauma of her childhood. She’s quite recently ended a long-term relationship with a man who is moving on without her, and she has a demanding and high-profile job. She has parents who love her and she still leans on Evie for support. Her memories of the house and her parents are all mixed up with her attempts to live a normal life, and the only people who will ever completely understand what she went through are all trying to forget it ever happened.

Going back to Hollowfield drags Lex back in time, and as she attempts to reconnect with her lost siblings, her psychological state begins to appear more and more precarious, and it starts to leave the reader wondering whether Lex is reliable enough as a narrator. She drinks a little bit too much and seems to have lost her way – a way that keeps dragging her back to exactly where she started.

Dean’s novel deals with some pretty traumatic and hellish content, and her characters are indicative of the abuse they suffered at the hands of a tyrant of a father, and a mother who did nothing to stop the abuse. The narrative jumps constantly (almost erratically) through different time-lines, almost mirroring the narrator’s state of mind. At times it is as though we are racing towards a conclusion, and then are suddenly thrown back into the reality that sometimes trauma lasts a lifetime. For the children that escaped the House of Horrors, it sometimes feels as though they never escaped at all.

Girl A is an incredibly well-written psychological thriller. It is dark, and disturbing, and scattered with moments that will make you gasp in absolute horror. At times it feels a bit like a ghost story (not a spoiler), and in many ways, the ghosts of the past are what haunt Lex, and essentially the reader long after the last page is turned.

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