Summer of “Shelf Discovery” Week 3, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of Lizzie Skurnick’s reading memoir Shelf Discovery is “Danger Girls: I Know What You Did Last Summer (Reading).” Interestingly, she writes about the following books, which include two Lois Duncan titles, though not the one in the chapter’s title.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Daughters of Eve by Lois Duncan
The Grounding of Group 6 by Julian Thompson
Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan
I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier
The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle
Dragons in the Waters by Madeleine L’Engle
Secret Lives by Berthe Amoss

Skurnick compares these mysteries favorably to those with Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, beloved as they are:

not only are these serious business, but the complexity of the plots is matched only by the complexity of the challenges the characters face. In each case, there’s a mystery to be solved, to be sure. But each protagonist is also a mystery to herself–and one we are just as eager to see her solve.

I think this is true, but I think Skurnick gets closer to the reason I was reading with this, when she writes about one of my former favorites, Summer of Fear. She lists all the scary things that happen in the book, and notes that certain aspects of the villain ON TOP OF THOSE might be seen as overkill to adults, yet were like catnip to twelve year olds who WANTED to be scared.

Another interesting thing I noticed was that the adults in these are mean, clueless, or both. One of my annoyances with many modern children’s book, like the Harry Potter series, is that THEY NEVER TALK TO DUMBLEDORE OR PROFESSOR MCGONAGLE. Which is maddening to me, as the reasonable grownups would help. I like that there ARE reasonable grownups in the book, but I think it’s interesting how making them mean/clueless is an effective way to remove them from the equation.

For this chapter, I re-read, and thoroughly enjoyed, The Westing Game. (Like Turtle, I was a shin kicker. I kind of miss that easy way to express one’s displeasure.) And I read The Grounding of Group 6 for the first time. I enjoyed it, and am sure I would have done so as a kid, but would rather have re-read either Summer of Fear or I Am the Cheese instead.

Another of the teen-in-danger books I loved when I was that age was The Solid Gold Kid by Harry and Norma Fox Mazer, about a millionaire’s son who gets kidnapped. I found a copy on my used-book binge for this, and look forward to reading it again.

What do you think is the attraction of the teen-in-danger trope?

What books did you re/read this week from the above, what are other teen-in-danger books you have fond memories of, or what are some modern teen-in-danger books? Would this be the best chapter for Katniss, Bella and Lisbeth Salander?

How to read along this summer

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

12 Responses to “Summer of “Shelf Discovery” Week 3, Chapter 3”

  1. Amy Says:

    Maybe we liked these books as teens because we needed some external distraction from the terror of our own teenage years. I know I loved these books back then, along with almost anything supernatural.

  2. crystal Says:

    I picked up the two Duncans but did not get around to reading them -I guess I overbooked my week. :/ I remember being more into Stephen King around this time (eleven/twelve/thirteen) for the scare factor. I have read the Hunger Games series, His Dark Materials and The Dragon Tattoo series all of which I think could fit in this category.

    There is nothing like the excitement/suspense of a great scary book and again the taboo as a twelve year-old just discovery this genre was exhilarating like you were getting away with something. You can’t yet get into the PG13 movie so this was the next best thing.

  3. girldetective Says:

    Crystal, when I was 13, there weren’t PG 13 movies! that had yet to be invented.

  4. Alice@Supratentorial Says:

    I read The Westing Game also. It was one of my favorites as a kid and I enjoyed it this time also.

    I was also a big Lois Duncan fan and I read one of my favorites not mentioned by Skurnick, They Never Came Home. I realized in reading both of these that I’ve always loved thrillers/mysteries and still do. I wasn’t that into the supernatural Duncan books but I think I like them because they were a little edgier than the Trixie Belden type of mysteries (of which I was also a devoted fan). They Never Came Home is not one of Duncan’s supernatural ones. Also interesting to me was that the theme of amnesia is one I have been returning to in book after book and several movies in the past year. Apparently it’s been a theme that has intrigued me for a long time.

    That might be a little to much about me, but I think the larger idea is that it’s interesting that maybe our book choices as a child/teen predict what our book choices later as an adult will be.

    The other thing I was struck by was how conservative They Never Came Home is. I’d have to go back and read more of Duncan’s books to see if that’s true of others but it surprised me on this read.

    The only other thought I had was that I absolutely have to read I Am the Cheese after reading Skurnick’s summary. That’s one I missed as a kid.

  5. girldetective Says:

    Alice, was They Never Came Home the one in which a not-so-attractive girls is asked to a dance by an amnesiac guy, who later blows her off and she pretends she’s dating a guy with a Karmann Ghia? I’ve been racking my brains to figure out which Duncan book that was. It’s so bizarre, the details that remain! I recommend I am the Cheese, and am hoping to re-read it. It’s one that demands to be re-read.

  6. shannon Says:

    lois duncan was the second time i took note of an author’s name (the first was judy blume of course) - she was that good. the book was Killing Mr Griffin and i was hooked on that danger genre. until i read Skurnick’s book, i had no idea she wrote I Know What You Did Last Summer (!). anyhow, i’m choosing to read Summer of Fear (first time) but i’m not done yet.
    and after the description of of the Grounding of Group 6 (…all 5 of them, and none of them was fat) i’m desperate to find it!!! what an opener! i even read that exerpt to my 13 yo and now we BOTH want it.

  7. Patricia Says:

    Again. an entire chapter of books I haven’t read/didn’t know existed, but I only had time to read one while on vacation (I used to be able to read in the car …not anymore. Do you get more car/seasickness as you age?) I read I am the Cheese and loved it. I can’t wait to give this one directly to my 12 year old son.

  8. girldetective Says:

    Shannon, I found my copy of Group 6 at the science fiction bookstore, which has both used and new books and had a young adult section. Be sure when you read Summer of Fear to get an older edition. The more recent publication has been haphazardly “updated” with new tech, marring the holistic goodness of the originals.

  9. Kate Says:

    So these were not really my books back then. I read I Am the Cheese, but not much Lois Duncan. Perhaps this carries through today with my avoidance of scary movies? I remember friends reading these books, but other than Killing Mr. Griffin, I didn’t read many of these. I remember Killing Mr. Griffin making me incredibly uncomfortable (and now that I think about it, maybe where I got the haunting idea you could accidentally kill someone and then wouldn’t you feel bad and you’d have to hide the body, but the guilt, the guilt!).

    On the other hand, I remember reading Mary Higgins Clark books like candy and a few YA novels about teen alcoholism, so maybe my need for creepy books just was focused elsewhere.

  10. Alice@Supratentorial Says:

    Alice, was They Never Came Home the one in which a not-so-attractive girls is asked to a dance by an amnesiac guy, who later blows her off and she pretends she’s dating a guy with a Karmann Ghia? I’ve been racking my brains to figure out which Duncan book that was. It’s so bizarre, the details that remain! I recommend I am the Cheese, and am hoping to re-read it. It’s one that demands to be re-read

    Yes! Or I should say sort of! At the end of the book the amnesiac guy is beginning to remember details of his past life and calls his new girlfriend (the not so attractive girl) by his old girlfriend’s name. Then he won’t talk to her about it and she tells him she can find other dates for things at college. He hurst her by saying she should do that. Then the new girlfriend comes to town and meets the old girlfriend. When the new girl realizes who the old girl is she tells her to tell the amnesiac guy that she has a date to a dance with a guy who drives a Kharmann Ghia. Funny that you remember that detail because it’s not really that important in the plot.

  11. girldetective Says:

    Alice, yay for confirmation! I remember asking my dad if a Karmann Ghia was a good car, and he said, “Nah, it’s a piece of junk.”

  12. shannon Says:

    alas - my copy of Summer of Fear was sprinkled with cell phones, emails, and photoshop :)
    but pretty soon into the plot, i knew the twist. so i must have read it when i was younger but only focused on the author’s name and not the title.
    as for the re-read, yes, i still like being frightened in a totally unthreathening way :)
    and i’m thrilled to have rediscovered lois duncan as an alternative to the goosebumps series that my preteens gravitate to