Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ is a horror novel often compared with Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, since they are both loosely based on the Sylvia Likens case. Johnson’s rendition of the case has a much stronger psychological aspect than Ketchum’s, which is much more gruesome and violent.
20-year-old Barbara Miller has been left in charge of 13-year-old Bobby and 10-year-old Cindy Adams while their parents are holidaying in Europe. Everything is going smoothly and Barbara is enjoying her new role of bossy babysitter however, about a week before the Adams’ are due to return, Barbara wakes up drowsy from a heavy dosage of chloroform and finds herself to be completely immobile. Her two young charges and three neighbourhood children have tied her tightly to the bed, and giddy with their new found freedom, they aren’t going to release her until they have fully enjoyed their ‘game’.
The premise might not sound so scary - how harmful can a group of kids be anyway? Well this is what Barbara thought initially, but she soon learns how dangerous it is to underestimate children. At first Barbara thinks the kids are simply playing a prank and will free her soon. She quickly realises this is not the case and, as the youngsters adjust to their new roles as the ‘grown-ups’, they become gradually bolder and more ferocious with their new toy; the mental torture of the earlier part of the book progressing steadily to callous physical abuse.
Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ starts off very well - the writing flows nicely and is easy to read. Once the youngsters have taken Barbara captive however, the novel moves quite slowly; some parts were a little dull and at times my attention wavered. A great portion of the novel consists of Barbara pondering the situation and for large chunks there was a profound lack of progress; it reminded me of Jessie’s somewhat tedious inner dialogue in Gerald’s Game - Barbara even imagines conversations with her friend Terry much like Jessie talks to her inner voices.
An interesting aspect of Let’s Go Play is that we not only get inside the victim’s head, but we also observe events from the point of view of each of her captors. The childrens' characters are written well and it is interesting to observe their development through the entire process. Dianne is the eldest at 17 and is black-hearted and quite terrifying; her brother Paul is well on his way to becoming a fully fledged psychopath, being very weird and unnerving. The Adams children themselves - Bobby and Cindy - are mostly victims of peer pressure, and once the situation starts to get out of hand it is interesting to watch their very different development in attitude as Barbara begins to deteriorate. Barbara’s slow degeneration is harrowing and sad and, as the novel advances, she becomes less of a person to the children and is more like a giant Barbie doll to them, making for a shocking and deeply disturbing read.
Due to its unsettling nature Let’s Go Play is neither easy to read nor a novel everyone will want to try. It reminded me a little of Lord of the Flies in the way that the children behaved savagely without adults to keep them in check, and did things just because they could - some of the things they do to their babysitter are completely void of emotion and humanity. The fact that the villains in Let’s Go Play are a group of normal children exacerbates the level of horror with innocence being corrupted and completely destroyed when parental guidance is absent. This novel is dark, compelling and highly chilling, and although it is not too graphically violent, it will burrow into your psyche and leave you thinking about its uncomfortable content for days.