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Genre Crime, Thriller
Format Hardback (borrowed from family)
Other Formats Available Paperback, ebook, audiobook
Publication Date January 2021
Length 352 pages
Content Warnings Child abuse, trauma, PTSD, suicide, death, violence, birth descriptions
What It’s About
Lex has spent years trying to forge an identity for herself beyond that of Girl A – the one who escaped from her parent’s horrific abuse and raised the alarm to save her siblings. Now an adult, with a successful legal career in New York, she is dragged back to her childhood trauma when her mother dies in prison and names Lex as executor of her will.
As Lex reconnects with her siblings, many of whom she hasn’t seen for years, she must confront the insidious grip they have on each other’s lives, not to mention the dark coping strategies that can hold back the past no longer.
When I realized in the first few pages that Girl A is a story of child abuse, my first thought was ‘Oh god, this is going to be gratuitous‘. What I ultimately got, though, was a complex, multi-faceted, and sensitive portrayal of trauma.
Through each of the siblings, who endured shocking abuse as children, the author presents different responses to trauma while refusing to pass judgement. Some of the brothers and sisters focus on career success and the projection of normality. Others turn to religion or drugs as coping mechanisms. Amid all these responses, the character of Lex anchors the narrative so it feels cohesive.
“To them, the past was a sickness which my siblings still carried; you could catch it from a conversation.”~ Abigail Dean, ‘Girl A’
The psychological depth of the novel is so central that I would hesitate to categorise it as a thriller, with the genre’s plot-driven connotations. Instead, the focus is on the characters and their connections with one another – I found the relationship between Lex and her psychologist particularly fascinating.
Having said that, there is a final twist to the ending that was completely unexpected and left me reeling. However, the impact of this bombshell was more emotional than that of a classic whodunit.
Diversity and Representation
Throughout Girl A, I found the depictions of trauma, mental illness, and psychological scars to be carefully thought-out, rather than gratuitous plot devices. Also, I appreciated how a variety of coping responses were presented non-judgementally.
- Gender and sexuality
Beyond the Book
The story of Gabriel, one of the abused siblings, is particularly disturbing. Manipulated by greedy adoptive parents and an unscrupulous agent, he tries to make a living on the true-crime circuit and even sells a few relics from his horrific childhood online to the highest bidder.
I had a sense that Gabriel continued to suffer repeated traumas even after being removed from his abusive home. This uncomfortable realization made me reflect on the potentially exploitative, voyeuristic nature of our obsession with true crime – and perhaps even fictional crime narratives?
Dean drew on real-life true crime stories while writing the novel, such as Fred and Rosemary West and the case of the Turpin children. Such grim inspiration demands careful treatment, so I appreciated the author’s efforts to wrestle with issues of responsibility and ethics through Gabriel’s character.
If you’re reading Girl A as a book club pick or just looking to ponder it in a little more depth, these questions should help get you started:
1. Lex’s relationship with each of her siblings is put under a harsh spotlight in the aftermath of their mother’s death. Which of these relationships did you find most compelling?
2. What did you think of the book’s structure? Were the flashbacks effective at conveying the past abuse suffered by Lex and her siblings?
3. Did you find the coping mechanisms of different characters in Girl A more understandable/ relatable than others?
“That was the problem with coming home: you also had to come to the self which resided there.”~ Abigail Dean, ‘Girl A’
You want to try a different kind of thriller centred on a complex and sensitive portrayal of trauma.
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Have you read Girl A and if so, what did you think? What are your favourite psychological thrillers? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!