The Girl Next Door (Ketchum novel)

The Girl Next Door is a crime novel by American writer Jack Ketchum in 1989. It is about two teen girls who are left in the care of their aunt, and the systematic and escalating abuse both of them and one sister in particular suffer at the hands of their aunt and her children.

The Girl Next Door
First edition
AuthorJack Ketchum
IllustratorNeal McPheeters
CountryUnited States
GenreCrime, Thriller, Horror
PublisherWarner Books, Overlook Connection Press, Leisure Books, Amazon Kindle
Publication date
Media typePaperback, Hardcover & E-book
Preceded byShe Wakes 1989 in literature 
Followed byOffspring 1991 in literature 

The novel is loosely based on the murder of Sylvia Likens, in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1965, although the names of the people involved, as well as the location, time and details of the crime itself have been changed. In 2007 it was made into a feature film, The Girl Next Door.


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 neighbourhood and childhood friends, David introduces Ruth, a single mother and an alcoholic (amongst other things) with three sons: Willie, Donny, and Ralph. Ruth has, over time, gained the trust of the neighbourhood children by allowing them to come freely into her home, play as rough as they wish, and even drink an occasional beer with her.

Ruth's nieces then enter the picture; Meg, a teen girl for whom David develops feelings and Susan, a young girl who was severely injured in a car accident and still experiences complications from it. Both girls come to live with their aunt after the sudden death of their parents. At first, when they arrive, all seems well. 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 connivance" with Meg. When Meg tries to tell a police officer 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 her, beat her and even urinate in Meg's face over the course of months, making them feel that because they have the permission of an adult, their actions are okay and they will not be punished.

David soon realizes that he must do something before time runs out and he loses the first girl that he has ever loved. However, despite his efforts, his plan to rescue Meg is foiled when Meg tries to bring her sister Susan with her and Ruth catches them trying to leave. As punishment, Ruth allows her son Donny to rape Meg. Willie also wants to rape her, but Ruth refuses to let him, saying it is incest for him to do so after his brother. Ruth then carves the words "I FUCK / FUCK ME" into Meg's stomach, saying she is doing it so no man will ever want Meg. Ruth then takes it a step further and decides she will end all sexual desire on Meg's part and gives her a clitorectomy.

In the meantime, 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 David and Ruth are being led upstairs, David sees Ruth wearing Meg's mother's wedding band. Remembering a promise to get it back to Meg, he vengefully pushes Ruth down the stairs, killing her. The officer with David realizes he did this intentionally, but, knowing how evil Ruth was, the officer claims that the fall was accidental, and David is never charged with Ruth's death. As David grows up he continually tracks down the whereabouts of the other children who helped to torture Meg, discovering that they either end up dying young as a result of reckless lifestyles or go on to lead lives blighted by poverty and crime. After reading of a brutal crime spree perpetuated by one of the now-grown children of Ruth, David is left to wonder what has become of the children that he was unable to track down.

Film adaptationEdit

A feature film based on Ketchum's novel was released in 2007. Entitled 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.

External linksEdit