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Are You in the House Alone? takes place during the 1970s in a middle-class suburb in Connecticut. Neither the setting nor the characters are extraordinary in any way. The familiar environment emphasizes the potential for rape to occur anywhere, as Peck tries to dispel the common misconception that rape only happens in the inner city among the poor.

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Literary Qualities

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Richard Peck's literary reputation sometimes suffers because critics identify his works as "problem novels." In Only Connect (see For Further Reference section below), Sheila Egoff contends that adolescent problem novels are too narrow and external because they grow from a specific social problem rather than from a writer's personal vision of the human condition. Egoff delineates the formula followed by problem novels: the protagonist is alienated from, and hostile to, the adult world; an unconventional adult is the only person who understands the protagonist; and the first-person narration features short sentences and paragraphs written in a flat, prosaic, and cliche-ridden style.

At first glance, Peck's novels seem to fit this formula. Are You in the House Alone? resulted from his research on rape and its effects on adolescents. The main character feels alienated from adults, except for the eccentric Madame Malevich, and the story is told in the first person. But Peck's rich style far surpasses the formulaic approach Egoff berates. The narrative flows from one significant event to the next while capturing the complexities of real life. Small details contribute significantly to the characterizations, and realistic dialogue gives each character a distinctive voice.

Are You in the House Alone? won the Edgar Allan Poe Award given by the Mystery Writers of America for the best juvenile mystery published in 1976. Not a mystery in the usual sense, the book received the award based on the author's skill in building suspense and vividly portraying the protagonist's increasing loneliness and terror.

Social Sensitivity

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Rape, the novel's central topic, is a controversial subject. Many people, particularly young adults, feel uncomfortable about addressing the subject. But Are You in the House Alone?? treats the crime with sensitivity and without sensationalism. Lawver knocks Gail unconscious during the attack, and Peck does not depict graphic details. The medical examination following Gail's admittance to the hospital is described in clinical terms. Most rape victims do not seek medical treatment, and Peck tries to show readers why such an examination is important and what is involved.

Gail has been sexually active with her boyfriend before the rape and has obtained a prescription for birth control pills from a Planned Parenthood Center, but the novel does not include any explicit lovemaking scenes. Although the lawyer contends that Gail's sexual activity makes it impossible to convict the rapist, Peck views Gail's behavior as her own responsibility. Her mother dislikes the idea, and the rapist regards it as proof that she desires his attack, but the author remains neutral on the subject. Peck emphasizes society's attitude toward rape without making value judgments about the victim's sexual behavior.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 168

Duncan, Frances. 'The Young Adult Novel: One Writer's Perspective." Horn Book 62 (April 1981): 221-228. Duncan argues that young adult novels are not written for today's young adults; rather, they are written by yesterday's adolescents about yesterday's adolescence. She feels that the category is false and that young adult books belong in the mainstream of modern fiction.

Egoff, Sheila. The Problem Novel." In Only Connect: Readings on Children's Literature, edited by Sheila Egoff, G. T. Stubbs, and L. F. Ashley. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Egoff discusses the adolescent problem novel, concluding that it is too narrow in scope and style to be good fiction. She analyzes the genre's vast appeal and its influence on children's literature as a whole.

Peck, Richard. "Coming Full Circle: From Lesson Plans to Young Adult Novels." Horn Book 59 (April 1983): 208-215. An autobiographical essay about Peck's career as a writer of young adult novels.

"Rape and the Teenage Victim." Top of the News 34 (Winter 1978): 173-178. Peck discusses his reasons for writing a novel about rape.

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