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My Lois Duncan jag concludes with Summer of Fear, a supernatural thriller first published in 1976 and revised by the author in 2011 to account for changes in communication that would deflate much of her plot if the story took place in the present. Im not wild about the trend to update Young Adult thrillers published in the 1970s or 80s for readers of today. Duncans books are scarier when her teenage heroines cant rely on smartphones, the Internet or helicopter parents to help them overcome evil. In the 70s, you were on your own (think of Jamie Lee Curtis babysitter character in Halloween). That said, Duncan knows how to craft a taut tale of primal fear and unsettle the reader regardless of the era.The story is the account of Rachel Bryant, a nineteen year old troubled by a newspaper article of a family who disappeared on a hiking trip. Rachel has questions about who couldve photographed the family before their hike and whether this person of interest could be someone she knows. Moving back in time to the summer of Rachels sweet sixteen birthday, the Bryants are a family of five living in suburban Albuquerque. Rachels father Tom is a government engineer and her mother Leslie is a freelance photographer. Her older brother Peter is eighteen and plays bass in a rock band. Her younger brother Bobby is eleven and a pest. Rachels dog Trickle rounds out the loving household.Set for a summer of repose, Rachel awakens to the news that her mothers sister Marge has been killed in a car accident near her Ozark Mountains home in Lost Ridge, Missouri with her husband and housekeeper. Rachels Uncle Ryan was a novelist whose work kept Marge isolated and Rachel never met her surviving seventeen year old cousin, whose name is Julia Grant. While her parents are dispatched to the Ozarks to bring Julia home to live with them, Rachel discusses her apprehensions with Mike Gallagher, a childhood friend and lifeguard who has become something more than a friend. Rachel remains uncertain about sharing her room with a complete stranger.Julia. It was a pretty name. I tried to remember the things Id heard about Julia over the years. I knew, of course, that she went to a boarding school in New England because there were no good public schools in the area of her mountain home. I had a feeling she was supposed to have a talent of some kind. What was it she did--sing? Paint? Write poetry? To tell the truth, I had never been interested enough to make note of it, or of anything else from the dull family chitchat in Aunt Marges annual Christmas letters. But now I did want to know. I wanted to prepare myself.Meeting her cousin for the first time, Rachel detects a dialect that awkwardly transitions from hillbilly to proper English and clothes that dont quite seem right for her. Julia peppers Rachel with questions about the family while shying away from answering many about herself. Meeting Trickle, Julia reacts with hostility to dogs and the feeling seems to be mutual. The next day, Rachel introduces her cousin to her friend Carolyn and the girls go shopping. Rachel is struck by how instantly taken Carolyn is with Julia. This phenomenon extends to her parents and even to her shy older brother Peter, who is positively googly-eyed over his first cousin. Impervious to Julias charms is their neighbor Professor Jarvis, a retired professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico. Strange things are afoot in the Bryant household. When Trickle sinks his teeth into Julias ankle, Rachels father demands the family dog be leashed and kept outside; the poor mutts health deteriorates quickly which Rachels parents blame on an illness of some sort. Rachel comes across an article in her fathers National Geographic about witchcraft, but dismisses it. In lieu of a summer dance, Rachel makes herself a dress, puzzling at why she chose pink, a color she dislikes and would look much better on a girl like ... Julia. Rachel wakes the morning of the dance stricken with hives and asks Mike to take Julia, letting her cousin borrow her new pink dress.Home alone, Rachel finds discarded matches in her bedroom and suspecting that her cousin might have a stash of cigarettes or marijuana nearby, rifles through the room. She discovers a waxlike sculpture shaped like a dog she cant make anything out of. Peter returns from the dance despondent and reports to his sister that Julia spent the night chatting with Mike. When Rachel confronts her boyfriend about this, he admits that he fell in love with Julia and hopes he and Rachel can still be friends. Cursing her cousin under her breath as a witch, Rachel goes for a chat with Professor Jarvis, who happened to just return from lecturing a womens club about witchcraft. We know that the mind has powers that often go undeveloped. Scientific tests conducted in laboratories have proved that certain people have more control over their mind forces than others. There are people who can predict the turn of a card or tune their minds in on events that are occurring in other places. Why then is it unreasonable to believe that there might be other people who can channel this mind force outward and create happenings instead of just know about them?And people who can do that are witches?Some of them call themselves that.Summer of Fear is not a great novel. The other titles Ive read by Duncan (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Down a Dark Hall, Daughters of Eve, The Third Eye) are not great novels and Ive gone on record here about how I feel about the special editions. Duncan struggles to suspend disbelief not because her books deal with psychic phenomena or criminal conspiracies among teenagers, but because the psychic phenomena and teenagers tend to be developed in the most generic and sanitized terms that qualify them for placement in the Young Adult category. On many levels, the characters think like adolescents might imagine adults think.Duncan is a much better writer than her rudimentary prose suggests and with this novel in particular, plugs into the sort of existential dread that a reader of nearly any age should be able to relate to. The fear that a charismatic individual no one else wants to see for what they are might take over and destroy your life is primal and exploited between the lines here beautifully. Every strange event that Rachel experiences is glossed over with a rational explanation by her parents and escalates another one of Duncans themes: adults refuse to take teenagers seriously and want to control them. There isnt a wasted character or prop; every element Duncan introduces pays off by her climax, which on the page, are as exciting and unexpected as those favored by Alfred Hitchcock.Lois Duncans work laid a foundation for the high school horror revival in American film in the mid-1990s, beginning with Scream. Wes Craven directed and twenty years earlier he directed the most faithful adaptation of Duncans work with Stranger in Our House, a made-for-TV version of this novel that premiered on NBC on October 31, 1978. Linda Blair played Rachel, Lee Purcell played Julia and Fran Drescher played Carolyn (each of these actresses co-starred in an iconic movie of the 70s: The Exorcist, Big Wednesday and Saturday Night Fever. The Craven movie isnt remembered so fondly). The tiny perfection of Duncans novels is that they table graphic depictions of violence and even profanity and are able to generate dread and unease with suggestion.

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