The mere mention of Lois Duncan’s name strikes fear into my book-loving heart. In elementary school, she freaked me out and gave me more irrational fears than any other author. Sure, there was always R.L. Stine, but Goosebumps never really did it for me. Probably because in Goosebumps no one was ever stalked after a hit-and-run (like in I Know What You Did Last Summer). No one in Goosebumps ever accidentally killed a teacher and then tried to cover it up (like in Killing Mr. Griffin). And Goosebumps definitely never featured a witch who just so happened to look great in a bikini while also being able to kill people with her mind, which is exactly what we get with Summer of Fear.
Rachel Bryant lives a perfectly nice life in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has 2 brothers and a dog named Trickle. She gets along with her parents most of the time. She even has a boyfriend, Mike, who lives next door (kind of like Reeve in The Face On The Milk Carton, although Mike is beret-less, so far as I can tell). Basically, everything is going along swimmingly until her aunt and uncle are killed in a car accident and their daughter Julia is sent to live with the Bryants.
From the second Julia arrives, Rachel knows there’s something a little off about her. Trickle attacks her, after which he mysteriously dies. Julia’s eyes are secretive and dark. Everyone seems to like her, except for Rachel. There are no pictures of her anywhere (never a good sign! If someone you know refuses to be photographed, you should assume they are a ghost/vampire/witch/evil being). And then there’s the whole thing about how she totally steals Rachel’s boyfriend and doesn’t even feel bad about it. Hasn’t she heard of ovaries before brovaries? Clearly, at the very least, Julia is a man-stealing, dog-killing, weird-eyed jerk, but Rachel starts to suspect something more might be going on.
What’s the deal with all the matches Julia keeps burning? Why did she have a melted wax figure of a dog? Why isn’t Julia more upset about her parents’ death? Could it be what Rachel suspects—is Julia actually a witch?
On the surface, Summer of Fear is about a witch, but there’s a lot more than that going on. Sure, Lois Duncan’s books were scary, but at the heart of each one was a girl struggling with the same things most teenagers worry about: family, boys, acceptance and love. As Lois Duncan herself says in the Q&A at the end of the book, “I think every teen can relate to the anger and frustration young people feel when adults do not take their fears and opinions seriously.”
Sometimes rereading the beloved books of my childhood can be a bit of a downer. I might realize the story doesn’t hold the same magic for me as it once did, or discover that the dialogue is painfully stiff, or that the characters seem more like middle-aged people than teenagers. That wasn’t the case with Lois Duncan. Summer of Fear was just as creepy, exciting and suspenseful as it was when I was a kid. Rachel seems like a real teenager, with real worries and problems. I’m so excited these books have been rereleased. I’d like to say it’s because a whole new generation of kids will get to experience them, but mostly I’m just excited that I’ll get to read them again.
-Have you ever seen a better book cover? Lois Duncan’s books were recently re-released with new covers that manage to be both beautiful and creepy. This one is definitely (in my opinion) the best.
-Even when they’re being tormented by a possible witch, the Bryants seem like such a delightful, artsy family. Rachel sews, her mother is a photographer and her brother is in a band. I can totally get why a wayward witch might want to hang with them.
-Rachel’s older brother, Peter, develops a George-Michael style crush on Julia. When Rachel reminds him that marrying his cousin is illegal, he stammers, “Marry? Who’s talking about marriage? At least–well, if something like that came up, it would be pretty far in the future, after college and everything. You don’t worry about that sort of thing until you have to.” Oh, Peter. Haven’t you seen Les Cousins Dangereux?
-Along with the new cover, the Summer of Fear reissue also features an updated text with a special author Q&A; the interviewer is previous YAE featured author Jenny Han!
-In the Q&A, Lois Duncan reveals that her biggest challenge in updating the books was accommodating new technology. When the books were originally written, cell phones, e-mail, etc. didn’t exist, so it was easier to isolate the characters. As Lois Duncan explains, “Today, most teenagers have cell phones. They can call–they can text–they have laptops and iPads–nobody is isolated. I had to find ways of getting rid of these communicative devices in book after book. And I couldn’t use the same method more than once, because people might read these new editions back-to-back, so they’d notice if I repeated myself.” Who knew it was so much harder to scare kids in 2012?
What’s your favorite Lois Duncan book? Are there any books you’d like to see covered in Young Adult Education? Let me know in the comments, or send me an email at email@example.com!
And a big congratulations to the winners of our Chopsticks giveaway: Julianne Goble and Carly Herron! Just email your mailing adresses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get your prizes shipped out to you!
Image via Hachette Book Group