Categories
book reviews

REVIEW – Slenderman: A Tragic Story of Online Obsession and Mental Illness by Kathleen Hale

Published: September 1st, 2022
Publisher: Grove Press
Genre: True Crime
Format: Paperback, Kinlde

Welcome to my review of Slenderman. Thank you to Grove Press and Netgalley for the eBook ARC.

********

SYNOPSIS:

The 2014 Slenderman stabbings in Wisconsin, USA, shocked the local community and the world. The violence of Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weiser, the two twelve-year-old girls who attempted to stab their classmate to death, was extreme, but what seemed even more frightening was that they had done so under the influence of an internet meme, the so-called ‘Slenderman’.

Slenderman tells the full story for the very first time. Morgan and Anissa’s friendship could so easily not have taken the turn it did – but Morgan was suffering with early onset schizophrenia. She believed she had been seeing Slenderman for years, and that the only way to stop him killing her family was to bring him a sacrifice. Her victim miraculously survived the attack but was left deeply traumatised, while the severity of their crime meant Morgan and Anissa would be tried as adults.

Slenderman 
is both a page-turning true crime classic and a compelling search for justice.

********

MY REVIEW:

“There is a natural tendency, when a child is hurt, as Payton was, to want vengeance. But vengeance isn’t justice—vengeance is an appeal to passion and prejudice, an appeal to ignore the facts and the law.”

The Slenderman stabbings in Waukesha, Wisconsin, USA is a haunting crime that shook the world.  On May 31st 2014, three 12-year-old friends went to play at a local park after a sleepover.  A few hours later one of them is found bloodied and near death after being stabbed nineteen times.  She says her friends are the culprits.  
When Morgan Geyser and Anissa Wieser are apprehended and questioned hours later, the story they tell is one no-one expected.  It’s a story of myth, horror and childhood obsession.  They say they attempted to murder their friend to protect themselves and their families from Slenderman, an internet meme that the girls believed was real.  

I am a devourer of true crime.  I read it, I watch it and I listen to it.  When I first heard of the Slenderman stabbings back in 2014 I was shocked and appalled.  Not only at the ages of the perpetrators, but of the sheer brutality and violence of the attack.  As I learned of the detailed planning of the crime and watched the interview tapes of Morgan and Anissa I was even more disturbed.  My own children were only a few years younger than these three girls and the idea of my sons being on either side of this crime was horrifying.  My instinct was to agree with the decision to charge them as adults and say that the book needed to be thrown at them.  Lock them up for the rest of their lives.  But I didn’t know the whole story.

In her fascinating, illuminating and compelling book, Kathleen Hale reveals the truth behind the headlines; the lesser known details that emerged in the hours, days, months and years following the stabbings.  She explores how mental illness can affect people’s actions and shines a light on how mental illness is treated – or rather untreated – within the justice system.  It is exquisitely written, never sensationalising or glorifying the crime yet not shying away from the truth.  And while she doesn’t focus on the gory details of the attack and life-threatening injuries Payton Lautner suffered, it is detailed and makes for uncomfortable reading.  

But it isn’t this that I think people will find most unnerving and hard to read.  Ms. Hale gives the reader an insight into the minds of Morgan and Anissa, reminding us that these were impressionable children that day.  Children whose brains had not yet fully developed, and with decision making-skills that were immature. And though it is made clear multiple times that Payton was an innocent victim who not only bravely fought for her life that day, but still lives with the physical and mental scars of that day, a lot of the focus is on Morgan and Annisa, exploring what life was like for them following their crime, the illnesses they were later diagnosed with that led to them committing the attack, and asks us to consider morally complex and uncomfortable questions about the desire for justice versus the need for vengeance.  Were Morgan and Anissa two cold-hearted, evil monsters or troubled young girls who needed help?  Can both of these be true?  And what price should they pay for what they did?  

This is a case that is so much more complex and emotionally fraught than I’d realised going into reading this book.  I’d watched the documentaries, interviews and court appearances, and I’d read a number of articles, yet I was still unprepared for the conflicting emotions this book would stir within me.  We learn that Morgan was suffering from early onset schizophrenia and was removed from reality at the time of the stabbings.  Following her crime she completely lost touch with reality until finally being diagnosed and treated for her illness.  Meanwhile, Anissa was eventually also diagnosed with an illness that distorted her perception of reality at the time of the stabbing, making what happened not simply a case of good versus evil.  
As a mother my heart first goes out to the victim, but I couldn’t stop putting myself in the shoes of Morgan and Anissa’s parents, imagining how I’d react and feel if it had been my kids and the pain it must cause when the child you love so much commits such an atrocious act.  I also felt a huge amount of compassion for Morgan suffering from schizophrenia and for some of the things Anissa went through.  I struggled with the question of whether they should have been tried as adults and how long they should serve for their crime.  This is a case with no easy answers and no winners, only losers.

Unflinching, powerful and moving, I think this will become a true crime classic.  It is meticulously researched, balanced and will stay with you long after reading.  There is an overwhelming grief that pervades every page, not only because of Payton and all she suffered, but for the many lives changed that terrible day.  A difficult read that is also hard to put down,  I’d recommend this to anyone who is interested in true crime.

********

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Kathleen Hale is the author of two young adult novels and one essay collection. She has written for Vanity Fair, the Guardian, Hazlitt, and Vice, among other outlets, and is a writer and producer for Outer Banks on Netflix. She was born in Wisconsin and lives in Los Angeles.

********

BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones | Amazon | Bookshop.org

********

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles xx

*All purhcase links are affiliate links