The Road Out of Hell by Anthony Flacco

If we are to understand “evil” at all, we must think of it as a word—an emotional word—we use to describe actions performed by other humans that we experience as breathtakingly horrible, shocking, and, often enough, nauseating.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from June 18, 2020 to June 20, 2020.

I’m an avid follower of a book site called Book Riot. They publish frequent articles on anything book related. I stumbled across a headline that instantly made me want to read it, called “The Most Disturbing Book I Have Ever Read“. I love disturbing books so I wanted to see if it was a book that I hadn’t read it and sure enough it was. The Road Out of Hell was this particular contributor’s vote for most disturbing read. I had vaguely heard about the Wineville murders, probably on some true crime documentary that I watched. The author of this article sold me and I instantly went and put the book on hold at my library.

In the mid-1920s, Sanford Clark was 13 years old when his peculiar uncle, Gordon Stewart Northcott, convinced his deranged and abusive mother that it was a good idea for him to leave his home in Saskatchewan, Canada and go and work with him on a “chicken farm” in Los Angeles in the US. The minute Sanford left the home his mother practically forgot him and his uncle began to show his true colours and intentions. For the next two years Sanford suffered unimaginable sexual abuse and trauma at the hands of his uncle. It became clear to Sanford that the chicken farm was a ruse for his uncle to carry out despicable acts on young boys like himself and get away with it. Gordon Stewart Northcott kidnapped, raped and killed an estimated 20 boys, though he was only convicted for a handful. Sanford was mortifyingly forced to help with some of the acts by providing his uncle’s victims with meager food and water, locking them away from visitors or helping dispose of their bodies. Sanford realised he would only live as long as he proved useful and endured the screams he heard night after night and felt immense guilt and relief when the abuse wasn’t being centered at him. After so much abuse, trauma, and manipulation, Sanford eventaully resigned himself to his fate believing his he was trapped and could not be saved. He was was looking forward to when his uncle would finally kill him… Thankfully his sister Jesse never ever gave up on him.

Gordon Steward Northcott finally got caught for his crimes when he made the mistake of killing a young white boy named Walter Collins of whom he had an acquaintance with. Up until then, Gordon had been praying on migrant Mexican boys whom unfortunately the authorities would not have looked to deeply into when they went missing or were never reported to begin with. The movie The Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie is about the murder of Walter Collin’s as Angelina Jolie’s character plays Christina Collins, Walter’s mom, as she searches for her missing son. Gordon’s family knew about what he did and covered for him, with his mother actually assisting in one of his heinous murders. Gordon and his family attempted to escape but were eventually caught in September of 1928. Sanford bravely testified against Gordon in court and helped sentence Gordon to death by hanging in October 1930. The media attention and the gravity of these horrific crimes caused the town of Wineville to change its name to Mira Loma.

This story isn’t about Gordon though, this story is about Sanford and how he managed to beat all the odds of the trauma he experienced. After being rescued from the chicken farm after Gordon and his family fled, Sanford was lucky to have a people on the police force looking out for him. Sanford was put into a rehabilative youth program for his parts in assisting in some of Gordon’s crimes, despite him being a victim himself, but the program proved to be extremely useful in keeping Sanford busy and helping him heal from the ordeal. He made a promise to the investigator that he wouldn’t become a criminal statistic of those who have had to endure major trauma like he did. Sanford set out to lead a normal and productful life and he succeeded. Marrying the woman of his dreams and have the continued support from her and his sister Jesse through his darkest days, Jesse became a humble, hardworking, and kind person who raised two sons. He even served in WWII. Sanford passed away at the age of 78 in 1991 having fullfilled the promise to the policeman who showed him kindness and believed in him. The promise that kept him going during his darkest days.

This story is one of struggle and triumph. The novel puts the focus on Sanford and not on Gordon, as it should. The abhorring scenes that Sanford endured are tastefully described by the author in shocking detail that really makes you feel like you are in Sanford’s shoes. The author masterfully put Sanford’s life together from his teens to the end of his life. The content in this book is so chilling it’s hard to believe that it really happened as it’s a surreal read that is as engaging as a piece of horror fiction. I could not put this book down.

This novel is, by far, the best true crime novel I’ve read to date and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves the genre. However, if you’re sensitive to scenes of rape and trauma, this book may not be for you. While the ultimate outcome of this book is positive, trauma is still takes a up a large part of this story.

 

 

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

Did this book traumatize you as as teen?

4/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read on October 26, 2018.

So this is the book that disturbed a generation of teens! Huh, I can definitely see why. ‘Cause this book is the epitome of a fucked up childhood. This book is banned in a lot of places and I can see why but at the same time I’m not sure I believe in sheltering teens away from certain realities. By reading books like this one, teens open up their mind to the world around them and become aware that there is a good chance that someone they know is suffering from some form of child abuse.

Everything was perfect for the Dollanganger family, four beautiful, blonde children and their doting parents, but their idyllic family-life is brought to an abrupt halt when their father suddenly passes away in a car accident. For the twins, Chris and Cathy, they soon realize that their mother is no longer able to provide for them alone. Their mom then makes a decision to return to her wealthy parents for assistance, a reasonable decision. Or so it would seem; their mother has been keeping secrets from them. The children soon learn that their mother has been disowned by her own family due to the scandalous relationship that brought them into this world, and that if their mother wants to inherit the family fortune the children need to be hidden away until after their grandfather dies. Since they are children they reluctantly agree to the strange situation with their mother promising to return in a few days. Those days turn into weeks, months, and then years as the Dollanganger children live out some of their peak emotional and cognitive years in the confinement of their grandmother’s attic. Their situation is volatile and desperate but they deeply fear their grandmother so they only thing they can do is stick together and look out for each other.

Annnnnd that’s where I will end the book summary since things get particularly twisted from there on out. Most people approach this book knowing full well the pinnacle twisted moment so I’m going to spoil part of it… Chris rapes Cathy. It’s a tumultuous and sad scene as Chris has confused his love for his sister in not having any other contact to the outside world. There are also a number of horrific and heartbreaking scenes involving the grandmother and of course their despicable mother. The author does such a remarkable job in creating this terrible story that many people have wondered if any aspect of the story was real. The author claims this plot is a fictionalized version of a true story as part of the plot came from the author overhearing a story from a doctor during a stay in a hospital.

It’s hard to believe that this book is classified as YA because it sure doesn’t read like one. This book is twisted and it might be too much for people who have had the trauma of child abuse, rape or incest. Having said that, this book left its impression on a generation for better and for worse. I would let older teens read this if as a parent you’re comfortable with but I would suggest that you read this book first, if you haven’t already.