Summer of Fear, by Lois Duncan

Cover of  Summer of Fear , by Lois Duncan

Cover of Summer of Fear, by Lois Duncan

Things are good for Rachel Bryant. She's almost sixteen, she's dating her shaggily handsome next-door neighbor, she and her best friend are tight as tight can be—and it's lovely, lovely summertime.

Until the accident. Her aunt and uncle die, and suddenly, a grieving cousin from the other side of the United States—a girl Rachel hasn't ever even met—is moving in. For good. Into Rachel's room.

At first, Rachel is determined to make the best of it—to welcome Julia into the family, to console her, to become her almost-sister. 

But there's something not right about Julia. Something... evil.

This being a Lois Duncan book, that's 'evil' with a capital 'E' and an additional pile of lowercase 'e's: Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil.

I hadn't read this one since I was in middle school. It holds up in some respects, not so much in others. 

The majority of the book—the Summer of Fear itself—is a flashback. The first few and last few pages are set in the misty future, where Rachel says things like: 

"For too long now I've dwelt upon the past."  

The tone of those sections reminded me very much of Flowers in the Attic, actually.  Which, I guess, given the fact that FitA was published three years later, isn't all that surprising.

Some of the dialogue is pretty unbelievable:

"Do you recall the name of the village nearest to where they lived?" (16)

…as is Rae's voice:

"There I received another shock, for the ugly red splotches were not confined to my face." (79)

…but... I didn't care. 

I think because the book is so very 1970s—the flared pants, going to Dustin Hoffman movies, etc.—and because the emotions underneath the stilted writing feel genuine and right, because Rae's almost-overnight estrangement from everyone she loves adds to the horror of the situation, AND because everyone's refusal to believe—let alone try to understand—her is something that I know I identified with when I read it Back in the Day. Oh, and of course, Julia is super-ultra creepy, so together, somehow, it all works. 

That isn't to say that I didn't groan occasionally. Or that I didn't find the fact that nobody took issue with Peter immediately developed the Serious Hots for his cousin—Serious Hots equaling, in this case, talking about marriage—strange. Or that I didn't think it was hilarious that the friendly professor who lived down the street just so happened to be an expert on witches and also a believer in the occult. Or that I didn't think of Poison Ivy once or twice or thrice.

I did all of those things, and more. But Lois Duncan still works for me. She still manages to creep me out and she still keeps me entertained.  And sometimes that's all I'm looking for.

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Ok, WOW.  I had no idea that there is a movie based on this book.  Directed by Wes Craven and starring Linda Blair, no less!  It looks terrible, in the best possible way.  I'm totally adding that one to the Netflix queue, and bumping it right the hell up.  (Josh is going to be so mad!  BONUS!)


Book source:  My personal library.  (I have no idea when I bought it.  Or if.  It may have just appeared.  I've started to suspect that my books are secretly reproducing.)


I read this for the R.I.P. IV challenge.