Before The Hunger Games, or Harry Potter or James Patterson’s Middle School Books, there was Lois Duncan.
The Young Adult books of my time (I graduated from high school in 1977) were limited. Most of them were problem novels about drug addicts and teenage alcoholics. (News Flash! drug addicts and alcoholic don’t read books.)
But in the 1970s and 1980s, Lois Duncan was one of the most popular young adult authors. Her books were about normal teenagers suddenly thrown into terror and suspense.
Ransom-a terrorist comes aboard a school bus and takes students hostage.
Don’t Look Behind You – April’s normal life ends abruptly, when she and her family are forced to flee drug dealers and enter the Witness Security Program
or Locked in Time– Lenore begins to realize that her stepmother and stepsiblings never age. Her stepmother kills off her husbands when they become inconvenient.
Young Adult Author, Richard Peck talked to The New York Times about Duncan in 1978:.
“Lois Duncan breaks some new ground in a novel without sex, drugs or black leather jackets. But the taboo she tampers with is far more potent and pervasive: the unleashed fury of the permissively reared against any assault on their egos and authority. … The value of the book lies in the twisted logic of the teenagers and how easily they can justify anything.”
This was certainly true of Killing Mr. Griffin. When several high school students plot to kidnap their loathsome English teacher, they are suddenly dealing with a dead body and a whole host of other problems. Lest you think I am giving the plot away, that’s only the beginning. The story is about the teens’ attempt to cover their tracks.
Then there were The Daughters of Eve in Duncan’s first book. Members of a female secret society are advised by a radical feminist teacher to carry out extreme acts of violence. The New York Times Book Review referred to it as a female Lord of the Flies.
Lois Duncan died on June 15 at age 82. Her books will be remembered by many former teens.
She knows what you did last summer. And she knows how to find that secret evil in her characters’ hearts, evil she turns into throat-clutching suspense in book after book. Does anyone write scarier books than Lois Duncan? I don’t think so.