Lois Duncan, Down a Dark Hall
The book that forged the teen suspense genre
Though Duncan has written multiple picture books and nonfiction works, she’s probably best known as the queen of teen suspense, forging the genre in the 1960s through the ’80s. (Her 1973 book I Know What You Did Last Summer was adapted for the big screen in 1997.) Duncan’s books were serious and scary enough to freak out her increasingly sophisticated readers, yet they also fulfilled an important tenant of children’s fiction by giving her characters safe, happy endings. In this spooky tale, young Kit Gordy is shipped off to Blackwood Hall, an isolated boarding school in upstate New York while her mother and her new and – of course – jerky stepdad cavort around Europe on their honeymoon. Once Kit gets there, she finds that she’s only one of four students in the creepy old mansion. Then she starts having persistent nightmares that make her suspicious about the school’s true purpose. This version of Down a Dark Hall, reissued with Duncan’s greatest hits in 2010, has been updated for today’s teens with references to cell phones and emails – though neither are accessible to the hopelessly isolated Kit. Ghosts and ESP and an evil headmistress abound, but the true horror Duncan gets at is the notion that Blackwood’s students are no longer in control of their brains, a fear that resonates with young readers in any era.