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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review: Summer of Fear (1977)

  • Author: Lois Duncan
  • Paperback: 219 pages
  • Publisher: Laurel Leaf (October 15, 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780440983248
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440983248
Summer of Fear is one of several stories written by noted author Lois Duncan (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Hotel for Dogs) famous for her young adult novels. It is told in the first-person from the perspective of Rachael, a teenage girl living an idyllic life in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the late 1970's.  

Rachael enjoys a loving, close-knit family (including two brothers), a best friend, and a dog named Trickle. Despite her hangups about her curly red hair, Rachael also has a cute boyfriend named Mike, who is literally the-boy-next-door.  

Things begin to change for Rachael when her older cousin Julie comes to live with her family after Julie's parents are killed in a car accident in the Ozarks where they had been living.  Whereas before Rachael enjoyed being the only young female in the household, she now has to learn to share everything with her cousin, including her clothes, her bedroom, and her friends. At first, Rachael and Julie get along well but Rachael slowly begins to notice strange things about her cousin. First, her southern accent inexplicably comes and goes and then Trickle, who had always been a gentle dog, takes a strong dislike to Julie to the point of biting her which results in his banishment from the house.

As Julie becomes more outgoing, Rachael draws into herself straining her relationships with her family, her best friend, and even her boyfriend Mike, who takes more than a liking to Julie. When it seems that Julie is going to take everything away from her, Rachael investigates her cousin further and finds some surprising inconsistencies as well as evidence that Julie may be practicing black-magic on her, her family, and her loved ones. As the mystery unfolds, Rachel discovers Julie's horrific plan for her and her family. 

There really isn't a lot to not like about this book. The characters were all believable and I really felt that the author captured the feel of the late 1970's (which was actually the present when Summer of Fear was written.) The plot was mysterious enough to hold one's interest, although the observant reader will figure out the twist way ahead of Rachael. I liked that the mythology of the story drew upon real-life beliefs and practices found along the Appalachian Trial and that Rachael alluded to the works of Vance Randolph in her research, although it is not explicitly stated. At just over 200 pages, Summer of Fear is a quick read perfect for whiling away a lazy summer day.

Like some of Duncan's other novels before, Summer of Fear was renamed Stranger In Our House and made into a film in 1978 directed by Wes Craven and starring Linda Blair as Rachael and, a then unknown, Fran Drescher as Rachael's best friend. Stranger in Our House first aired on Halloween night in 1978 and later aired regularly on TBS along with other 70's occult movies such as The Spell (1977).  In 2003, it was made available on both VHS and DVD.


Carolina Dean


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