The YA map, of course, used to be limited to a few small-
town blocks. The horror genre, like other genres, was generally
fixable upon a certain white, middle-class reality: a kid, or
group of kids, going about daily home and school routines,
dragged just off the beaten path. Plenty of writers made their
bones within these parameters, though it’s arguable that few
had more influence than Lois Duncan, Christopher Pike, and
R. L. Stine, who hit the YA scene, respectively, with I Know
What You Did Last Summer (1978), Slumber Party (1985), and
Blind Date (1986).
Of the three, I Know What You Did Last Summer stands tallest;
Duncan is a true stylist and cognizant of teen’s interior thoughts
in a way that Pike and Stine, in their debuts, were not. The story
(vastly different than the 1997 film) involves four teenagers
holding to a pact of silence a year after they struck and killed a
10-year-old boy with their car. Now teasing notes begin to show
up. Someone knows.
The conservative bent of the era’s slasher films is reflected
here: the teens were drinking and smoking pot when they hit
the boy. Hence, they deserve destruction. (You’ll find the same
pattern in Pike’s Slumber Party.) Duncan juggles multiple characters with finesse, weaving in memories and backstories with
skill enough to make it look simple, when it is not, in any way,
The character of Barry, the swaggering, impatient athlete, the
least sympathetic of the bunch, ends up being Duncan’s finest
creation. He’s shallow but aware that high school is the time for
being shallow. The story forces him to get serious. For Duncan,
her plot isn’t only a chance to torture teens. It’s a way to acceler-
ate them through maturity. “Ray realized with a start how much
her eyes had changed since that picture was taken,” she writes.
“There was no hint of laughter in them now. They were eyes that
had not laughed in a long time.”
Under almost every category, Pike’s Slumber Party is the
weakest of these three books: prose, voice, character develop-
ment, lucidity. Yet it excels in the most important category
of all: it is genuinely upsetting. Like I Know What You Did
Last Summer, it involves a group of teens responsible for an
atrocity. Years ago, a group of girls at a slumber party acciden-
tally burned a friend to death and scarred another. Now, the
survivors are gathering for a reunion at a ski resort. Without
supervision. During a blizzard.
Immediately, one girl vanishes, and tensions flare. It’s frankly
difficult to tell one girl from another, but readers make the
effort because the story is so deliciously icky. Pike (weirdly
convinced that liquor is as flammable as gasoline) keeps the
people-torching going, up to the big reveal (spoiler!) that new
friend Celeste is the girl who supposedly burned to death. She
removes her sweater: “Scars of a decade of constant surgery were
there; swollen and convoluted red flesh stitched together. . . .
Another Look at:
Three Classic YA Horror Thrillers
Rereading the first YA novels of Lois Duncan, Christopher Pike,
and R. L. Stine tells us a lot about the history of YA horror.
BY DANIEL KRAUS
The horror genre hasn’t quite rebounded to its 1980s heights, but today’s YA horror pulses with vibrancy and variety. We have zombies: Jonathan Maberry’s sprawling Rot & Ruin series and Charlie Higson’s equally sprawling Enemy series. We’ve got
slashers: Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers series, Brenna Yovanoff’s Paper Valentine (2013), Stephanie Perkins’ There’s Someone inside Your House (2017). We’ve got gothic terror: Kenneth
Oppel’s This Dark Endeavor (2011), Rick Yancey’s Monstrumologist series, Lindsey Barra-clough’s Long Lankin (2012). And we’ve got uncategorizable madness: Andrew Smith’s The
Marbury Lens (2010), Jason Vanhee’s Engines of a Broken World (2013), Robin Wasserman’s
The Waking Dark (2013).