Summer of Fear
First published 1976
My history with this book
I first read Summer of Fear when I was about 10. I remember really enjoying it. I read many books by Lois Duncan from ages 10 to 13.
Summer of Fear is classic Lois Duncan. Duncan is a prolific writer of lots of different types of books, but she’s best known for her young adult novels, most of which were published in the 70s and 80s. Her most famous book is I Know What You Did Last Summer, which was the basis for the 90s horror comedy.
Duncan wrote YA novels of suspense, often with mild supernatural elements. Summer of Fear is the story of a teenage girl named Rachel whose life is turned upside down when her recently orphaned cousin Julia comes to live with Rachel’s family. Within days of her arrival, Julia seems to be taking everything from Rachel: her best friend, her boyfriend, her family’s love. No one else seems to notice that something about Julia is a little off, but Rachel becomes convinced that her cousin is a witch.
Re-reading Summer of Fear was fun, but it really made it clear to me that young adult books have changed a lot since the 1970s. I remember being blown away by the big twist ending when I first read this book. This time around, the twist seemed painfully obvious to me, with many years of reading mysteries and thrillers under my belt. Compared with more recent YA books I’ve read as an adult, Summer of Fear feels more appropriate for a slightly younger audience. The heroine may be a teenager, but the writing seems more appropriate for a pre-teen audience. I can imagine a 16-year-old being a bit bored by this book.
Summer of Fear gave me a lot of nostalgic pleasure, as it brought me back to a time when I was starting to read what seemed like much more grown-up books. While Summer of Fear may seem a little hokey to me now, it seemed terribly sophisticated when I was 10, and I liked being transported back to that time.
Does it hold up?
Mostly. There’s a very 70s feel to it, and Rachel and her boyfriend talk about going to see the new Dustin Hoffman film, which seems really dated.
Is there any objectionable content?
Nothing too terrible, but it was written in 1976, so there’s some sexism. In particular, Rachel’s parents leave her at home when they go to retrieve Julia after her parents are killed, and her mother says, “It will work best if you stay here and run the house for Peter and Bobby.” Peter is 18, so it seems ridiculous that Rachel should have to make sure he’s fed. But it’s 1976, so there you are.
Can you read it aloud?
No. The target age is past the reading aloud phase.
Would I want my kid to read it?
I wouldn’t push it on him, but I wouldn’t have any objection to him reading it.
The book is still in print and available in both print and ebook form.