Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why I Love Lois Duncan


This is technically a book review, but in more ways I would say it's a shout out to my favorite author and why I love her writing style.

For starters, I had to pick a book off a list for summer reading when I was in 9th grade. The one I wanted wasn't in the library, so I picked Lois Duncan's Stranger With My Face. Needless to say, I loved it. Since then, I've been periodically reading her books. Every time I need inspiration, I pull out one of her young adult suspense novels -- which, by the way, is why I write what I write.

So I finally finished Down A Dark Hall. I say finally only because I had to stop reading so I could devote my time to working, editing, reading Hamlet, editing, reading Frankenstein, editing, and working. (Hey, that sentence reminds me of a frame story!) But I finally got back to it, and, a positive point, it didn't take long for me to jump back in it. That is to say, it's easy to follow. It isn't insulting, but it isn't like jumping into the middle of Supernatural (television series) and wondering why they just killed the guy with the black eyes. (Poor example, I'm deprived of chocolate, and I'm listening to Led Zeppelin. Zeppelin=Supernatural in my book.)

So next I have to say, there's just some great things about this book.
  • Third person point of view - I automatically love. This is a preference, but like the title says "why I love Lois Duncan."
  • SUSPENSE! - again, a preference, but most people will agree that they love suspense. I'm reading this book and I'm wondering what the heck is happening to these characters. I was nearing the end today and I couldn't put the book down. I was wondering if the main character won over the guy, or if he was going to turn on her. I was forcing myself not to read ahead so that I could absorb every word. The cliffhanger left me upset, but only because I had to wait a few hours (thank you school) to finish the book.
  • Cliff hangers - again, with the suspense. They're not so in your face that you just get bored to death of them, they aren't obvious, and they aren't "blah." It's real suspense. "Fire, power outage, secret," stuff like that. I guess if that makes sense.
  • Characters - I wasn't overly sick of them like I am in most YA novels of today (then again, Lois Duncan isn't a YA novelist of today. Another key point). They weren't the most likable out of all of her work, but I could listen to their voices and their conversations, and feel genuinely concerned for them.
  • 1972 - the date this book was published. Let me get to that later.
  • The ending - left me with questions. I hate when every single question is answered and I'm left with happiness or despair. I want room to wonder. Was she welcomed home with open arms (random, unrelated example) or was she shunned, when all we know was that she escaped the evil person? I want to imagine that she either had a happily ever after or a not-so happily ever after.
So, Down A Dark Hall is about four girls who get accepted into an elite private boarding school. The twist is they are the only girls at this school. The only students! Three teachers, four students, a creepy building with a nightmarish past. As the days pass on, strange things happen, around and to the girls. Like I said, suspense, and I don't want to give away too much.

And here's another thing that I love. This book was originally published in 1972. There were no cell phones. There was no internet. Entertainment was cheap, and natural. Obviously, you're not going to see everything like that in today's literature. I don't write my characters into the "stone age." Even Lois Duncan herself is writing new editions of her books - updated to fit the more modern world. As she said on her website "it's time to step in and give my characters cell phones and computers and digital cameras."

That being said, what I admire is that the story isn't dependent on those things. If those things had been present when the stories were originally written, they'd be different, yes, and things would be easier for the characters, but also possibly harder. (We have had technology turn on us before, right?)

It may not be that easy for me to explain. Just think of the style of writing. You've got edgy, suspenseful, gripping story telling here. It leaves an uneasy feeling in the reader when they're done. Now read today's. The uneasy feeling is masked by school dances and sparkly vampires. Teenage problems are the meat of so many current stories.

By all means, correct me! Point and laugh and turn me towards an example of something that proves me wrong. I'm just speaking from my experience. But if you read the work of Lois Duncan, or even Christopher Pike (another great writer) and compare it to a lot of the books out right now... all the trendy supernatural books with vampires and demons and "blah, blah, blah..." You'll notice a difference, and hopefully you'll see where I'm coming from.

Don't get me wrong. I like supernatural stuff. Just not the overdone stuff.

Check her out some time! http://loisduncan.arquettes.com/index.htm

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