Petalfrog’s #CBR5 Review #14: Girl Afraid by Ciarán West

I received this book for free through the Cannonball Read several weeks ago. It took me that long to get through it, which really says a lot since I can usually finish a book in a few days. Everyday I would check the CBR5 page to see if anyone had reviewed the book as yet. I needed to know if I was crazy for thoroughly disliking the book, with each page getting worse and worse. I expected this book to be great, as West’s debut was apparently very well-liked (I started it but moved on to something else). As I mentioned in my previous review of a free book (Cinderella’s Secret Diary), I hate to give negative reviews when an author is generous enough to share his or her work with us and to be so vulnerable as to be okay with any thoughts we may have. Alas, I can not say anything good about Girl Afraid. From Amazon, the plot description is below:

Poppy Riley is missing. The man who has her wants no ransom, has made no contact with her family, and has no intention to do so. His plan for Poppy is far more sinister. In a locked room, somewhere in London, the ten year girl old sits and wonders how she came to be there.

Alice wakes up to a call from Frank. He is not a friend, but he knows everything about her. He is not a kidnapper, but he knows how to get Poppy back. The worst day of her life has already started, and he is her only guide through the horror. She knows she cannot trust him, but time is running out.

All over the capital, several men are waiting for confirmation that everything has gone according to plan. Strangers to each other, they are tied by a common interest. An interest in Poppy.

Alice and Frank have less than twenty-four hours to save her. Come and spend it with them. And keep telling yourself: ‘It’s only a book. It’s only a book…’

There are so many problems with this book, I don’t even know where to start. Major spoilers below, so don’t continue unless you want to know!

I guess I will start with the characters. The only sort of sympathetic character is Poppy, the 10-year-old kidnapped to be part of a child-porn video. Her father is apparently a favorite actor and the media is obsessed with this “gorgeous child.” I say “apparently” because we get nothing about him and at some point Poppy says he is on a “rig” which usually implies oilman.. who knows, to be honest. Alice is Poppy’s father’s assistant and sometimes caretaker for Poppy. The treatment of Alice is one of the most misogynistic I’ve ever seen (and yet, just mildly irritating, not even enough to incense or inspire any emotional reaction). Not surprisingly, Frank turns out to be a not-so-good guy and of course he then rapes Alice.

The male characters are also awful – every one of them either a woman-hater, child-molester, or loser. Only Poppy’s handler appears to be decent, and he’s just a hired thug with a long murder rapsheet (hey, but at least he’s not interested in molesting little girls). Alice’s boyfriend is a major character for some reason I can not fathom. He spends 75% of his scenes wandering around London, eating fried chicken, getting drunk, talking to hobos about love, and peeing at least twice (both times talking about how much he hates when men pee next to him)… thrilling stuff. His inclusion makes no sense, adds nothing to the story, and is terribly boring.

The men involved in the child-porn tape are just as bad. To make things worse they all have generic names (i.e., Bob, Bill, Harry, Henry, Don, and Rick) so it is impossible to keep track of them (especially as the story bounces between Alice, Poppy, boyfriend, and each of these men’s perspectives… there are at least 8 perspectives, none lasting more than 5 pages).

The storyline has some potential but just continues to devolve in to something that is meaningless  and utterly uninteresting. Rather than having this be an exploration of motive, guilt, shame, morality, immorality, or anything that would make sense and be thought-provoking given the plotline, West instead focuses on just providing us a blow-by-blow account of each person’s day leading up to the planned rape of little Poppy.  It’s all talk, movement and random “action” without any heart or consequence. The characters are kept separate for the majority of the book and it really suffers for their lack of interaction, resulting in one of the least compelling climaxes ever (seriously? How did the Albanians get involved in the climax?). My guess is that West sought to deal with some shocking material, but simply didn’t know what to do with it. The real shame I think is that the writing style was so pedestrian that I wasn’t even shocked despite the material at hand, just bored.

Again, I feel like I must be crazy because everything on Goodreads and Amazon describes this book as thrilling and edge-of-the-seat and I found it so incredibly disposable. I am hoping someone else reads this one soon so I can get a second/third opinion!

3 thoughts on “Petalfrog’s #CBR5 Review #14: Girl Afraid by Ciarán West

  1. I’m sorry but did you actually read the book? I don’t mean skim read it but actually, take in the words on the page?
    I know opinion is all subjective, it’s totally fine to not like a book, but none of your critique is actually based in facts within the book.
    If you’d read the book properly, you’d know the Albanians were introduced chapters beforehand, the plot entwines them earlier making that link even more ‘hide behind a cushion’ like.
    Yes, there are a lot of characters but it’s not complicated nor a new concept. William Faulkner uses it in As I Lay Dying and no one complains that it’s difficult to keep track of in that work of literary genius and one of those characters is dead (spoilers).
    I’m the first to call out misogyny in books but towards Alice? Really? Where? I’m dumbfounded by this…

    • I am sorry you disagree with my review, that’s fine. I read every page except for the ones with Dylan and the hobo, which I do admit I skimmed, because I could not for the life of me understand why he was in there as a character and why this hobo was there… to teach him the value of love? Yeah, that doesn’t work for me. I’m well aware the Albanians were in the story from earlier (i.e., during Bill (?) murdering a teen prostitute in the world’s thickest walled hotel), but I think their involvement in the finale was unearned. Actually, that’s how I feel about this book in the end — much of what was going on was unearned. Alice’s rape was unearned (why would Frank go through all the trouble to 1. terrify her, then 2. lull her into safety, to then rape her using drugs? Why not do it when she’s awake so he can see and feel her fear? His treatment of her goes unexplained and is, again, unearned). Alice’s love of Frank is also unearned given everything we saw of him. I also don’t think using Faulkner’s successful use of many characters to argue that this was done well in this book is a valid one. Tell me what you liked about the book and why things were successful…. I know you hate my review, since 99% of reviews have been positive, and that’s fine, but your response does not help me to understand why you think this book was good and does not make me like it anymore.

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