Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan

Down a Dark Hall
I have loved Lois Duncan's teen novels ever since I first read them as a beginning teacher in the early 90s. I love how she creates a feeling of suspense and terror with references to the paranormal. For some reason, I never read Down a Dark Hall, so when I saw this edition where the author has updated the story to give it modern references, I thought I'd give it a try.

The story starts with Kit being driven by her mom and new stepdad to Blackwood Hall, the boarding school she will soon be attending. She's not at all excited about being left at the new school while her mom goes off to Europe on an extended honeymoon with her new husband. When they arrive at Blackwood Hall, the description of the school is straight out of a gothic novel. Creepy with a capital C. The reader feels Kit's foreboding when exploring the house and the hallway to her new room. You just get a sense that something is off. All the clues are there -- how there are only four students at the school, how no one from the closest village wants to work there, how strange it is that there are locks only on the outside of the girls' bedrooms. This is one sinister place.

Kit and the other three girls each have some weird experiences in the house and are seemingly more and more isolated from the rest of the world. Lynda suddenly exhibits a talent for drawing and painting, even when she couldn't do anything artistic before. Sandy feels as though some presence is in her room at night. Kit is haunted by a melody in her dreams, but has no idea where it comes from. It seems that of the four girls only Kit and Sandy really question the oddness of it all and want to know more. Is the house haunted by ghosts? What's the real reason each of these girls were accepted to Blackwood Hall.

This is a quick read. The reader is quickly immersed into the sinister events at the school and Kit's quest to uncover all the secrets. Ms. Duncan does a nice job of building suspense without making it overdramatic. I really didn't get some of the secondary characters (like Ruth or Jules) -- they seemed a bit too one dimensional. I'm sure it would have helped to see just a bit more into their thoughts. Some things at the end of the book seemed incomplete, as I have way too many questions. I realize some things should be left to the reader's imagination, but I'm a bit confused about exactly how things worked. (I know that's a bit fuzzy, but without giving away spoilers, that's the best I can do.) Even with my questions, this is a terrific horror story to give you some spine-tingling chills. B rating.

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