Scary Books of Summer #1: Summer of Fear

summer-of-fearFirst, an update: My YA thriller The Killer in Me will be out on July 12, 2016, from Disney-Hyperion — and it’s on Goodreads!

The release date seems appropriate, because I’ve always loved reading scary books in the summer. Isn’t that what those long days (and short, sweaty, often sleepless nights) were made for?

So, every month until the book’s release, I’m going to blog about a different scary book that helped define one of my summers.

I’m starting with perhaps the summer-of-fear book — yep, Lois Duncan’s Summer of Fear. First published in 1977, it’s been reprinted many times since, and filmed twice (the 1978 version was directed by Wes Craven and stars Linda Blair!). When I got it from the library, about two years after initial release, it had the cover shown here, which scared the living hell out of me.

PICKY LITTLE NOTE: I am a real book reviewer, but these will not be real book reviews. I don’t have time to reread the books in question, much as I’d like to. So think of these posts as scary-book recs accompanied by my fractured, unreliable, fear-addled memories of the plot and reading experience. One iron-clad promise: NO MAJOR SPOILERS.

Where I Read It: Johnson, Vermont, a no-stoplight town where there’s not much to do in the summer besides visit swimming holes, vandalize old cemeteries (not speaking from personal experience), and read scary books. This was even truer circa 1980, when the pharmacy sold 10-cent ice cream cones.

What the Cover Promised: Summer bikini idyll turns deadly, and OMG what happened to that girl’s face?!

Imperfectly Remembered Plot: So, this teenage girl named Rachel lives in New Mexico, where she has an ideal life — until her cousin Julia from the Ozarks shows up. Recently orphaned Julia is just too perfect — worldly, gorgeous, mature enough to rock a bikini and seduce Rachel’s boyfriend. No one but Rachel suspects that behind Julia’s smoldering brown eyes and country-bumpkin accent lurks EVIL! And who’s going to heed the warnings of a jealous 15-year-old?

Did the Book Deliver? This was the first of many Duncan books that would inspire sleepless nights in my tween years. While she eschewed gore, Duncan knew how to bring the suspense, gradually tightening the net of unsettling circumstances around our heroine until suddenly Rachel is fighting for her life.

Things This Book Taught Me:

  1. The desert is creepy. (Lesson learned. My book also takes place largely in Duncan’s home of Albuquerque, though the main reason for that is my Breaking Bad super-fandom and the infatuation with New Mexico it spawned.)
  2. The Ozarks are creepy. As an adult, I have a feeling I might be troubled by the hoary class and regional stereotypes involved in the eventual reveal about Julia — whose long game is truly, deeply disturbing. The implication is that Bad Things Come From Poor, Rural, “Backward” Places and Invade Pristine Suburbia. But “backwoods evil” is such a venerable horror trope that I can’t really hate it.
  3. “Redheads can’t wear pink.” One of my most vivid memories from this book is of poor carrot-top Rachel watching in dismay as brunette Julia puts on her pink party dress and transforms it from a fashion fail into a triumph. Valid rule, or just a relic like “No white after Labor Day”? I’ll leave that question to those with reason to know.

Scary Books I’m Reading This Month: The Night Sister by Vermont’s own Jennifer McMahon.  The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy.

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