Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
So we've talked about my Joan Lowery Nixon phase here before. I actually think I discovered Lois Duncan right before Nixon, but the two will always go hand and hand in my mind. Together they perfectly satisfied my twelve-year-old thirst for a light blending of suspense and the macabre. And no Duncan book did that better than the deliciously creepy Locked in Time. I enjoyed all of her books and they all succeeded in giving me the chills at one point or another. My old copy of I Know What You Did Last Summer is definitely showing its age and my love, as I loved revisiting those characters the most. But Locked in Time is the one that truly scared me. Not just chills, not just anxious anticipation, but the real deal, had me setting the book down long enough to calm my racing heart kind of scared.
Seventeen-year-old Nore has been away at boarding school since her mother died a year ago. Now she's on her way to Louisiana to visit her father and his new wife and her two children. When she arrives at Shadow Grove, several things are clear. Her father is happy with his new life. Her stepmother Lisette, stepbrother Gabe, and stepsister Josie are perfectly well-mannered and perfectly beautiful. And something is very, very wrong with them. Through conversations she has with elderly neighbors and residents of the town, Nore's seemingly crazy suspicions about Lisette, Gabe, and the entire Berge family start to grow. These vaguely horrific suspicions grow stronger as she overhears them discuss events from decades ago as though they were there when they happened. Nore finds herself torn between her distrust of Lisette and her growing friendship with Gabe. Determined to make her father come to his senses and see the truth, Nore rushes to solve the mystery of her new family before her time at Shadow Grove runs out.
When I think about this story now, years since I last re-read it, I am still instantly filled with the same overwhelming emotions--an appreciation for the heady beauties of the Deep South mixed with a sense of impending doom. Ms. Duncan struck the perfect chord with the impossibly lovely Berges and the simultaneous fear and longing Nore feels when in the presence of a "real" family again. The truth to the mystery unfolds smoothly and slowly, like warm molasses, creeping up behind you to tap you on the shoulder. In some ways it reminded me of a younger, simpler Mary Stewart novel, with its lovely heroine and its beautiful atmosphere. I remember thinking Nore was brave and being desperate for someone to believe her, for Gabe not to really be trying to kill her, for her father, in his grief, not to have ruined them both so thoroughly. It's the same emotional connection I seek out today when I'm in the mood for something slightly dangerous, slightly haunting, slightly bittersweet. It was these early young adult mysteries that led me to the Mary Stewarts, the Laurie Kings, the Deanna Raybourns I discovered later on. I will always love them for being the beginning.