80s Flashback: Stranger with My Face

Summer of Fear
Lois Duncan
First published 1981

My history with this book
I remember very clearly reading this book in seventh grade. My best friend also read it, and we had a lot of discussions about it. I recall it being quite suspenseful and scary.

My thoughts
I loved Stranger with My Face as a pre-teen, and I’m happy to say that I enjoyed it almost as much as an adult.

Our heroine Laurie has a storybook ideal teenage life. She lives with her artist mother, writer father, and younger brother and sister in a beautiful cliff-side house on an island off of Massachusetts. She’s dating the popular Gordon, which has made her part of her high school’s ruling clique. But her newfound status is threatened when she misses a party because she’s home sick and her friends claim they saw her on the beach that night. Laurie claims innocence, but her friends are suspicious, and soon she begins to feel like someone has been in her room and there are more incidents where people think they see Laurie when she couldn’t have been there.

Laurie soon realizes that there is indeed a stranger out there stranger-with-my-facewho looks just like her, a long-lost twin sister who wants her life. This book has lots of gothic elements: a long-lost evil twin, a supernatural twist (astral projection), and a scarred (literally) love interest. Duncan specialized in thrillers, and some of them had a supernatural bent, but of the ones I read as a kid, Stranger with My Face was definitely the scariest and creepiest.

I enjoyed many things about this book: the spookiness of the plot, the sense of atmosphere, the evil villain, and the romance between Laurie and the island’s outcast. I particularly liked that the ending doesn’t tie things up in a neat package. There’s an end to the story, and it’s not an unhappy one, but it’s not necessarily a happy one either. I don’t recall what I thought of the ending when I was a kid, but reading it now, I appreciated that Duncan didn’t go for a big showy happy ending. The uncertain ending feels unexpected for a book of this type.

Does it hold up?
Much better than I expected.

Would I want my kid to read it?

Is there any objectionable content?
Nothing terrible. There’s an adoption plotline that feels quite dated, but probably wasn’t unusual for the time the book was written. There’s also some vague Native American mysticism related to the astral projection plotline that I assume doesn’t have much to do with any actual Native American traditions. The mother of Laurie’s friend Helen says some awful things about their friend Jeff, who has terrible facial scars, but Helen shuts her mother down, and Laurie and her family embrace Jeff and don’t care about his appearance.

Can you read it aloud?
No, it’s too long and the target age is too old.

It’s still in print, but the current version has been revised slightly by the author. I read the original text, so I’m not sure how extensive the revisions are. I believe they are fairly minor. It’s not hard to find used copies of the original text. The cheesy cover pictured here is the paperback edition I read as a kid.


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