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DAY SEVEN: Lois Duncan, the Queen of Teen Terror – guest post by Carol Turner

Today, I welcome local Sussex author Carol Turner to the Lil’ Bookshop of Horrors for a nostalgic look back at the work of one of the all time greatest writers for teens, Lois Duncan, author of I Know What You Did Last Summer

As the season of all things beastly and bone-rattling is now upon us, I got to thinking about how I was first introduced to horror fiction when I was a moody, morbid teenager. For some reason this genre seems to go hand in hand with adolescence. But what is it about horror that sucks in even the mildest-mannered teenager? Think about it: it’s during the difficult teen years when our eyes are opened to how dark the world can be, and we have a morbid fascination with this dark side while at the same time needing to contain it somewhere safe (where safer than in a book?).

My horror writer of choice was Lois Duncan, who skilfully managed to tap into the teenage psyche in her stories about witches, murder, voodoo and mysterious disappearances. She always included a neat moral lesson or two as well, perfect for teens like me on a crusade to put the world right.

summer of fearIn Summer of Fear, Rachel’s cousin Julia comes to live with them after her parents die in an accident. At first sympathetic, Rachel soon suspects that Julia is not the lovely, sweet girl everyone thinks she is. Since her arrival bad things have been happening, and Rachel is convinced Julia is responsible. Of course, no one believes Rachel, and I am outraged! When she tries to tell her parents that she believes Julia to be a witch, her father goes ballistic and grounds her. Typically, the way Rachel makes her revelation is heated and irrational, not at all the calm and factual account she had planned. Oh, how I know the frustration. When Rachel’s father remarks that it’s no wonder her ex-boyfriend would now rather be with the gentle, kind Julia, I want to climb right in the book, stand alongside Rachel and let rip at him. What a terrible thing to say to your daughter! Is there anything harder to take in adolescence than the realisation that your parents make mistakes?

On my first reading, I so wanted Summer of Fear to end with Rachel being utterly vindicated, her family and friends grovelling for her forgiveness. But in fact, although Julia confesses to Rachel and eventually leaves, her parents remain skeptical of the witchy explanation. They may never fully understand Rachel, but it’s clear they do love her. Her mother acknowledges what a difficult summer she’s had and tells her they hate to see her so unhappy. Perhaps it’s not vindication we need, but this reassurance that we are loved and cared for.

killing mr griffinLois Duncan often offsets the horror of her novels with a satisfying justice-is-served outcome. In Killing Mr Griffin, a prank intended to humiliate a teacher goes horribly wrong when he misses his medication and dies. Susan McConnell gets caught up in the plan in a bid for popularity, and in particular the attentions of her crush, David. He and the rest of the group involved in the plot each have their own reasons: academic pressure, injustice, teenage kicks, trouble at home. All except Mark, the ringleader. He is the one who takes things too far, and he confirms his baddie status when he tries to kill the remorseful Susan, who wants them to go to the police. In the end, Mark pays the penalty for the teacher’s death, while Susan may escape charges if she cooperates with the police. The lesson? Criminals must be punished, but those who make mistakes, if they are sorry, may get a second chance.

Locked in Time HardbackLocked in Time, probably my favourite Lois Duncan novel, contains many of the themes I’ve already mentioned, plus a healthy serving of heroism. Nore must save her too-trusting father and herself from her wicked stepmother, who is set on disposing of them to prevent them from discovering her extraordinary secret. Naturally, it’s too late as our sharp narrator had her sussed since Chapter 12. Naturally, too, Nore succeeds, because teenagers are invincible. I won’t say any more because you have to read it.

I always got a kick out of how slow-on-the-uptake the parents were in these novels, compared with the switched-on, ultra-observant teenage narrators. That makes it all the more disturbing that I am now coming round to the ‘adult’ way of thinking: put my slippers on and get a cup of tea; I don’t have the energy to save the world today.

Thank you, Carol, for that enticing look into the world of Lois Duncan. You’ve made me want to hunt down some of these classics!

mirroringIf you fancy an atmospheric paranormal mystery that’s brimming with suspense, check out the masterful Carol Turner’s Mirroring, currently being serialised on Wattpad.

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1 Comment

  1. Summer of Fear was one of my favorites as a kid! I read Killing Mr. Griffin and I Know What You Did Last Summer back in the day too. Duncan was right up there with Judy Blume for me. So curious to see how these books hold up!
    Thanks for the tip on Mirroring 🙂


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