A Lois Duncan explosion!!
So a few years back I started rereading a bunch of the Lois Duncan books. They had been rereleased in the mid 2000s and “updated” in the sense that many of the characters would call on a cell phone rather than a landline. What becomes clear in reading all of these (minus the Debutante Hill book) is that that changeover wouldn’t work because so many of the different obstacles of the books would be nearly instantly solved with cell phones and the internet, or at least enough of them would be to mean certain of the books couldn’t be updated. All of that is great with me because part of the charm of the books is the contexts of the issues and how quaint certain elements of them are. The other funny thing about these books is how variable the sense of danger is for certain of the issues. In my mind a hitman poses a MUCH MUCH LARGER set of problems than some of the smaller ones. So onward!
Stranger with my Face
I’d say this is the most famous of her books after I Know What You Did Last Summer and Killing Mr Griffin, right?
And honestly, I had no idea what would be happening in this one until we got into it. So we meet Laurie, a regular seeming girl living on an island in Maine. Her parents are relatively recent arrivals to the island, so she has a bit of an insider/outsider element to her, having not been born on the island, but also not being a seasonal tourist. So she is slowly becoming friends with the popular kids and making friends with the new girl from New Mexico (all Lois Duncan books seems to find a way to connect back to New Mexico — which in my mind feels like a place invented in the 1970s and not an “old” part of America at all. I know I am completely wrong, but western states just feel mythical to me). Her not boyfriend, but a boy she dates gets made at her for skipping out on a part and going to the beach. She’s confused because she was sick (another thing in Lois Duncan novels is that someone either always gets the flu or lies about getting the flu and that flu lasts one day).
Strange things start occurring like this where people either tell her they saw her somewhere else, or something like this. She also starts having strange little visions about herself or rather someone who looks just like her.
And like all other Lois Duncan novels (the one’s where the protagonist is a girl — which I think might be all of them) there’s a boy who can be fixed! The boy in this story had his face disfigured in a fire. Anyway, I won’t get into who and what the stranger with her face is, except to say, while I don’t want to do a cultural appropriation/orientalist reading here, it’s a little ripe for it.
New Mexico! Again! A boy who can be fixed? Yes, he’s got a disfigured arm!
So a group of teenagers from a rich development outside of town are the last to be driven home on the schoolbus, including at least one who wasn’t planning to be riding the bus that day, when the bus stops a “Mexican” man gets on the bus and the takes them all hostage.
Turns out it’s a kidnapping plot that involves taking all the kids to a location, extorting the kids’ parents and then collecting money. We can assume, as the kids later find out, that the plot probably involves just going ahead and killing them too.
So the book is creepy and I am not usually into “horror” or suspense books where things I was genuinely (and still am!) afraid of happen, so that aside, but the actual plot is so stupid and so goofy that the mishaps that occur —- kidnapping a kid with a jet-set uncle instead of parents, getting a kid with a poor but loving stepdad instead of the rich absentee dad, and other things leads to a whole series of accidental goofiness that I could help by laugh a few times. But the real kicker of how silly this one is that the boy whose whole personality is wrapped up in her disfigured arm. A real issue quaintly attached to a boy so a girl who wouldn’t talk to him otherwise can humanize him. Classic.
They Never Came Home
We begin with the news that local boys have gone missing from their planned hike. We follow one of the boys’ younger brother teaming up with the girlfriend to investigate various clues, as well as the younger sister of the other boy also investigating the disappearance.
As you can imagine, or maybe you can’t, the disappearance ends up looking quite a bit different to the sleuthing teenagers when they find things like slacks and dress shoes as part of the missing clothes. Not clothes for a hike, we’re reminded.
So the book, like a lot of her books falls a little into the deep end (and goes pretty crazy) when we start to get the whole story pieced together for us.
An early Lois Duncan novel with a lot of her hallmark features, but none of the thriller and suspense and supernatural things. Instead we’re in a small town looking forward to the debutante season, and our protagonist, not a debutante, finds out that her boyfriend who is in college has been convinced to take out a friend of the family. This creates a rift not because he was planning on cheating, but because of the hurt feelings. He thought he was doing a solid for a friend (and a poor unfortunate girl with no date), and so these hurt feelings leads our protagonist to getting closer to the sarcastic kid who has a record but is also sweet????!!!
Her mom warns her she can’t fix a boy, but she’s going to try! So there’s still a little “suspense” here when the boy is accused of stealing a wallet, but it’s mostly teen drama stuff, while hitting a lot of those other Lois Duncan signatures. I also found out looking this one up that she was a teen model and this story probably has a lot of little personal biographical touches to it as well.
Don’t Look Behind You
Ah the 1980s! Where everybody was obsessed with witness relocation programs in general. Our protagonist is a high school tennis champ in Virginia whose father is the star witness against drug runners (Lois Duncan is obsessed with drug runners in many of her books). When the case starts going south, the family is taken up by the FBI and US Marshals and put into hiding. They are chased from their home to a hotel in Richmond (also this hotel is inexplicable luxurious unlike anything you can find “outside Richmond”) and there a hit man finds them and they have to move again. They end up in a small Florida town in the middle of nowhere where it just so happens that tennis is biggest sport. We meet the new town members, we don’t forget about our old boyfriends, we get mad at dad for being selfish and at mom for drinking way too much, and then we have a showdown with a hitman. This one is beyond goofy at times, but also unintentionally hilarious in plenty of ways.
Summer of Fear
More supernatural, finally!
I love the supernatural ones best because they shoot for the moon, but also all of her books are super goofy, that at least with these, I am in a mood to suspend disbelief. I think also this is from the 1970s when she was hitting her stride in a lot of ways.
So we begin “four years on” with our narrator looking at minor crime/death items in the newspaper. She finds a family dying in an accident along with “one local girl”.
We jump back to the present where our protagonist finds out that her uncle, aunt, and a house worker have been killed in a car accident in the Ozarks where her aunt and uncle had been doing research. Her surviving cousin will now be coming to live with them as she’s too young to be on her own.
When she arrives, Julia is plainer and older looking than remembered, but that’s fine, right? But then strange things start happening — the dog hates her, but the boy next door and then the protagonist’s boyfriend really like her *wink*. And well, it goes from there.
The novel mostly pulls it off throughout by being spooky and silly, but the obstacles that Duncan puts in the way of things moving forward at times feel so goofy and trite. Oh well!