Lois Duncan (Steinmetz Arquette) Essay - Critical Essays

Duncan (Steinmetz Arquette), Lois


Lois Duncan (Steinmetz Arquette) 1934–

(Also wrote as Lois Kerry) American novelist, short story writer, and journalist.

Duncan's plots and characters vary, but her books always contain a good deal of suspense. In her works, Duncan has dealt with the murder of a high school teacher, witches, kidnapping, a group of sadistic feminists, and treason. Most notably, Duncan's love of suspense has found expression in her novels about the supernatural.

Her first book of this type, A Gift of Magic, relates a young girl's awakening to her extrasensory perception. Down the Dark Hall is the story of a boarding school for girls with ESP. In this Gothic mystery, Duncan spiced the plot with ghosts, an evil headmistress, and a handsome hero. Stranger with My Face is the story of Laurie and Lia, twins who were separated at birth. After a series of inexplicable events, Laurie finds out that Lia is using astral projection in an attempt to take over Laurie's body. Following several twists in the plots of her novels, Duncan consistently ensures that good triumphs over evil.

Although some critics accuse Duncan of being melodramatic, she has found an eager audience of young adults. Through her use of action, deft characterization, and other-worldly elements, Duncan weaves stories that capture the reader's attention. She has said that her primary goal is to entertain: "My own most successful books have been those that were high in entertainment value…. The most valuable thing an author can do for today's teenagers is to help them to realize that it's as much fun to read a book as to turn on the television."

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 2; and Something about the Author, Vol. 1.)

The Christian Science Monitor

Lynn Chambers [protagonist of "Debutante Hill"], pretty and popular high school senior, declines to join the Rivertown debutante group because her father thinks the idea undemocratic. Thus cut off from the social life of her normal circle of friends, and lonely for Paul Kingsley, her "steady," who has gone away to college. Lynn finds herself pushed toward a new series of experiences. Some of them are good, some are bad, but from all of them Lynn learns a lot. The end of the winter season finds her a much wiser and happier girl. Miss Duncan writes exceptionally well, and has the happy ability to make a reader care what happens to her characters. A few places are weak in plausibility, notably Paul's involvement in his first date with Brenda. It makes him more of a spineless wonder than the author has prepared us to believe.

S.B.B., "Widening Horizons: 'Debutante Hill'," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1959 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), February 5, 1959, p. 11.

Ruth Hill Viguers

[The Middle Sister is the] story of a girl's discovery that although she could not follow in the footsteps of her older sister, she was a person in her own right with her own beauty, talent, and integrity. The characters are alive and also very pleasant to know, and while the outcome of events is never surprising, the old theme is handled so exceptionally well that interest never lags.

Ruth Hill Viguers, in her review of "The Middle Sister," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright, 1960, by the Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XXXVI. No. 5, October, 1960, p. 408.

Best Sellers

[Season of the Two-Heart] delicately handles racial prejudice and the lack of understanding of both the Indian and American cultures. The characters bring out the fact that, if there is an honest effort and a willingness to try, the prejudice will melt into the background and personal worth will come to the forefront. A well-written story with evidence of much research in Indian customs present. Characters are life-like. (p. 289)

A review of "Season of the Two-Heart," in Best Sellers (copyright 1964, by the University of Scranton), Vol. 24, No. 14, October 15, 1964, pp. 288-89.

Ethna Sheehan

[In Season of the Two-Heart] Martha Weekoty takes her first step away from her Pueblo Indian environment by attending high school in Albuquerque. Now she can evaluate the loving but lackadaisical ways of the Pueblo. She sizes up the white family with whom she is living—the self-centered girl, the club-conscious mother, the lovable small boys, the kindly father. Above all, she weighs her love for the white boy Alan, who wants to marry her. The author does not provide a pat answer for Martha's dilemma concerning her future, but leaves the reader to ponder things from all angles as Martha will have to do. An absorbing story with serious undertones.

Ethna Sheehan, in her review of "Season of the Two-Heart," in America (reprinted with permission of America Press, Inc.; © 1964; all rights reserved), Vol. 111, No. 21, November 21, 1964, p. 670.

Ruth Hill Viguers

Even though the adjustment of young people from various American Indian cultures to the white man's world is an old theme, the story of Martha Weekoty in her alien setting [Season of the Two-Heart] compels interest. At once proud of her Pueblo Indian heritage and impatient with the indifference of her family to new ways that would serve the well-being of her people. Martha hoped to reconcile the two ways of life…. [She soon realizes] that she would never serve her people by renouncing her chances for a university education and following the pattern her parents expected of her. Sharply contrasted with her own home, in which attention to the children's diets may have been lacking but attention to their emotional needs was abundant, was her home with the Boyntons in Albuquerque, where she lived and worked during her last year of high school. Much as Martha loved little Daniel Boynton she resented giving him the care he should have received from his mother. The several threads of plot are woven together in a convincing and moving climax.

Ruth Hill Viguers, in her review of "Season of the Two-Heart," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1965, by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XLI, No. 1, February, 1965, p. 59.

Dorothy M. Broderick

[Ransom" deserves] mention for its portrait of the thoroughly amoral, egocentric Glenn Kirtland, a character unique in children's books, though not in life. Glenn, the high-school wonder boy, is one of the five teen-agers kidnapped because they live in wealthy Valley Gardens. The other four have conventional problems: shyness, divorce in the family, physical handicap and lack of self-confidence. As each reacts in his own way to being held captive atop an Arizona mountain, the predictable growth takes place—except in Glenn. It is this consistency of Glenn's personality that sets the book apart and makes it something more than another good mystery.

Dorothy M. Broderick, in her...

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Zena Sutherland

[Ransom is a] dramatic story of a kidnapping, suspenseful despite the fact that the number of characters, character sketches, and sub-plots crowds the background; the plot is less emphatic than it would be in a setting more sparse. Three criminals seclude the kidnapped young people in a mountain cabin, having shanghaied the school bus. Each of the five has his own problem; each reacts to the tension of the situation, and there are some interesting interactions among the five.

Zena Sutherland, in her review of "Ransom," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press; copyright 1967 by The University of...

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Kirkus Reviews

Selfish, smooth-dressing, pot-pushing Larry [protagonist of They Never Came Home], balking at discipline from Dad, decides that he can vanish (presumed dead) with the $2000 he's embezzled from his dope ring by pushing handy Dan off a cliff during their camping trip. Dan is sturdy (in spirit and body) and survives the fall with only a case of amnesia…. [Masterminded] by Larry, the two (as brothers Lance and Dave) reach the California coast where recuperating "Dave" works six days a week while "Lance" makes hay with pot. When Dan learns who he is and how he's been had, his revulsion and refusal to play along cause Larry to lunge at him, but this time it's Larry who goes over the balcony rail…. There'll be no...

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Peggy Sullivan

Effective characterizations, dialogue, and transitions from one set of characters to another can't redeem [They Never Came Home, a] melodrama in which a corkscrew plot curls around coincidences and contrivances…. An unlikely story from an author whose competence with main elements of fiction promises more and better story telling to come.

Peggy Sullivan, in her review of "They Never Came Home," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the April, 1969 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1969), Vol. 15, No. 8, April, 1969, p. 126.


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Zena Sutherland

[In They Never Came Home the] doubts about Larry's character are skilfully developed, so that it comes as little surprise to the reader to find that he had arranged to disappear, taking advantage of an accident that left Dan an amnesia victim. Save for that contrivance, the plot is deft; the story has action and suspense, and a compelling dénouement. (p. 157)

Zena Sutherland, in her review of "They Never Came Home," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press; © 1969 by The University of Chicago), Vol. 22, No. 10, June, 1969, pp. 156-57.

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Richard F. Shepard

["They Never Came Home"] follows its leads to a crackling finale that makes the novel live up to its billing as "psychological suspense."

Lois Duncan writes well and simply on mature situations. She gives her readers comprehensible, yet not over sensational descriptions of a mother's nervous breakdown; of a plain girl discovering beauty in herself; of a younger brother learning not to live in the reflected glory of an older one; of a mentally deranged boy who has cut himself off from the love his family wanted to give him. "They Never Came Home" is a well-paced action story, with a full quota of heroes and villains, and a series of narrative hooks guaranteed to hold any reader.


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Kirkus Reviews

John Andre was the British Army man who negotiated with Benedict Arnold at West Point, missed the boat to camp and was discovered a few miles from his own base in civilian disguise, the incriminating papers concealed in his sock. A romantic figure of his time and in [the pages of Major Andre: Brave Enemy], he was convicted of spying and hanged, both armies noting his courageous posture. His inner thoughts from boyhood on are imputed, a technique which tends to overdramatize a dramatic personality and force each gesture into significance. And the "spy" episode is quite brief, so readers looking for that kind of excitement will be disappointed to find so much more about his relationships with women.


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Muriel Kolb

The story of the infamous treason plot between General Mathew Arnold and Major André is told in [Major André: Brave Enemy, an] admiring biography of the dashing young British officer-spy. Some detail on Arnold is omitted, and there is a little fictionalization, though no distortion of facts. However, the book is more interesting and smoothly written than the very similar, recent biography by [Adele] Nathan, Major John André … which, though listed as an adult title by the publishers, is not too difficult for good junior high school readers; it has more historical detail, but is far from being comprehensive or scholarly. (p. 136)

Muriel Kolb, in her review of...

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Kirkus Reviews

Titillation, exploitation, anything but history: [Peggy is] the cattiest first-person portrait of a vixen, Peggy Shippen, the girl who becomes Mrs. Benedict Arnold. The girl who sulks, screams, cries, faints (and reports it all proudly) when Father moves out of Philadelphia…. The girl who marries Arnold after stealing someone else's beau; who masterminds the grand betrayal; who despises the unborn infant sullying her perfect figure; who declares about the baby that its "'Mama' (she herself) was ready to put a pillow over his head and sit on it and might actually have done so if Major Franks had not been there." Cloaked with spiteful dagger thrashing out in all directions—unconscionable even as fiction....

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Mary M. Burns

[Peggy Shippen] is an intriguing and controversial historical figure, for the exact extent of her influence over Arnold's attempt to betray his command at West Point is, according to at least one source, a disputed issue. The point of view that Peggy was aware of, approved of, and was indeed implicated in Arnold's treachery is the basic assumption underlying [Peggy, a] presentation of a pivotal event in American history. Peggy as narrator of her story from June, 1776, to September, 1780, is revealed as a self-centered yet fascinating, high-spirited girl whose ability to bend men to her desires finds its match in the equally self-serving Benedict Arnold…. Chosen as go-between because of his affections for...

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Peggy Sullivan

[In A Gift of Magic each] of the three Garrett children has a distinctive personality and talent. The older sister, Kirby, is determined to be a dancer, and little brother Brendon is a phenomenal pianist, although he has little real interest in music. But this above-average story centers on middle-child Nancy's gift of extrasensory perception and on the responsibilities, problems (in school, with her siblings), and advantages it gives her. It is an understanding high school counselor in love with her divorced mother who convinces Nancy of the values of her gift, and of the need to use it without trying to manage the lives of others (e.g., sister Kirby and her mother, whom Nancy had wanted to stay with her...

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Kirkus Reviews

In the same mail as Julie's acceptance to Smith College comes an anonymous note with the menacing reminder: I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. Though the weight on Julie's conscience seems to have left her more apathetic than anguished, the note sends her into a frenzy because what Julie—and her former boyfriend Ray, and his friends Helen and Barry—did was no harmless frolic; in a moment of panic they left the scene of an accident in which they had killed a 10 year-old boy. Even after Barry is lured to an empty athletic field and critically wounded he refuses to release his friends from their vow of secrecy. But both he and Helen (a narcissistic TV weathergirl) are so vacuous that one hardly cares whether they get...

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Zena Sutherland

Almost a year had passed since Julie and the others had made a pact of silence, and now this message had come, anonymously, in the mail. Who could have known? Barry had been driving when they hit the boy on the bicycle, had persuaded the others to drive off, and had convinced them that reporting their involvement could do no good. They did report seeing the boy—but help came too late. He had died. With taut suspense [I Know What You Did Last Summer] builds as each of the four miscreants is taunted or attacked (Barry is shot) and they fear that the mysterious avenger is bent on killing them all. The pressure of events affects other factors of their lives in a book that has vivid characterization, good balance,...

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Linda Silver

[I Know What You Did Last Summer is a] slick whodunit, pedestrian in style, mediocre in characterization, but suspenseful to the end. Four teenagers—friends who have drifted apart since they were involved in a hit-and-run accident—are jolted by a series of ominous notes and phone calls from someone who is on to their crime…. False leads and several suspicious characters will keep readers guessing the identity of the vengeful enemy and may even divert some from the regrettable fact that the four protagonists are too vapid to merit any real concern.

Linda Silver, in her review of "I Know What You Did Last Summer," in School Library Journal, an appendix to...

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Kirkus Reviews

When Kit and the other three high ESP-quotient pupils [in Down a Dark Hall] who have been chosen for Mme. Duret's new boarding school get their first sight of isolated Blackwood manor only one word comes to their minds—evil. But you don't have to be psychic to anticipate some fishy goings on—what with the locked gates, unmailed letters home and those nightly dream visitors who inspire the girls to discover hitherto non-existent artistic talents. When the spirit guides, including Emily Bronte, Schubert and landscapist Thomas Cole, start using the increasingly weary girls as a channel for delivering their posthumous masterpieces to Mme. Duret (who will use them for financial gain) only resolute Kit has the...

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Gloria Levitas

Two gothic novels. Lois Duncan's "Down A Dark Hall" … and David Severn's "The Girl in the Grove" … are on the whole, more interesting than many that flood the adult market. Perhaps teenagers more credibly embody, than do women in their twenties, the uncertainties and mild hysteria of gothic personality. At any rate, both books are suitably equipped with bright, attractive heroines, brooding mansions and brooding young men, and the requisite ghosts from the past. David Severn's book is crisply written, although its cloying plot and the heroine's inexplicable attachment to a boorish young man will put it high on feminist lists as a book to avoid. By contrast, Lois Duncan's off-hand treatment of romance allows her to...

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Sarah Law Kennerly

When 14-year-old Kit arrives at Blackwood, a new and exclusive school for girls run by Madame Duret, she is frightened by an unsettling atmosphere of evil…. The climax of terror [in Down a Dark Hall] comes when Kit discovers what happened to the pupils Madame had exploited in previous schools. What first appears to be a juvenile Gothic romance turns into a disturbing fantasy about the invasion of a sensitive human mind by an alien intelligence.

Sarah Law Kennerly, in her review of "Down a Dark Hall," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the December, 1974 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker...

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Kirkus Reviews

Long before she suspects orphaned cousin Julia of being a ringer, Rae [protagonist of Summer of Fear] is convinced that the new member of the family is a witch—and when the awkward Ozarks teenager promptly turns into a femme fatale to steal Rae's best dress and best boyfriend, all the while making eyes at Rae's dad, she shows herself to be the kind of villainess who'd make any red-blooded girl spitting mad. Rae finds evidence of supernatural doings—a wax doll, a mutilated photograph, the smell of sulphur … even the body of the family dog, felled by Julia's curse. But Duncan doesn't rely overmuch on conventional props; her speciality is high-gloss malice and murder (I Know What You Did Last Summer...

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Sarah Law Kennerly

When Rachel's orphaned cousin comes to live with the Bryants, 17-year-old Julia, whom the family had never seen before, charms everybody: Rachel's parents, her brothers, her best friend, and worst of all, her steady boyfriend. But for Rachel, Julia's arrival signals a Summer of Fear…. Sweet, lovely Julia, it turns out, is a witch: how Rachel finally uncovers the truth and saves her family from the ruthless sorceress makes for a sensational climax that may cause even young cynics to suspend their disbelief in black powers.

Sarah Law Kennerly, in her review of "Summer of Fear," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the December, 1976 issue of School Library...

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Julia Whedon

["Summer of Fear"] is the story of a very square Southwestern community invaded by a sorceress in lithesome teen-age form. Julia is orphaned by sudden tragedy and taken in by trusting relatives. Rachel—the narrator and resident teen-age daughter in that household—watches in helpless horror as cousin Julia steals her boyfriend, takes over her best friend, and displaces her in the affections of her own family. Rachel surmises this chick has a lot going for her besides looks and personality. She's not just a bitch—but a witch! Killing the family dog with voodoo, putting her curse on those who suspect her (a near homicide), and finally plotting a fatal accident for Mom, she is found out only at last, and almost too...

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Ethel L. Heins

Vigorous characterization, a neatly tailored plot, and a sense of foreboding that rises with the accelerating pace of the story telling—all these are the hallmarks of a successful thriller. Rachel [protagonist of Summer of Fear], almost sixteen that June, was totally at peace with her responsive, loving family and with her boy-next-door romance. A long, happy summer stretched ahead. Then came the news that an aunt and an uncle had been killed in a mysterious single-car accident and that her seventeen-year-old cousin Julia—whom she didn't know—was coming to live with them. From a remote part of the Ozarks she came, a curiously mature-looking, ungrieving, inscrutable girl who immediately seemed to cast a...

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Richard Peck

Contrary to certain opinion, the new wave of novels for adolescents hasn't explored every sensational topic after all; mainly because the adult author doesn't live in a world as corrosively conformist or as criminally cruel as that of the teenager. Breathy novels about drugs, sexual liberation and sub-proletariat gang warfare let off scot-free the majority of young readers, who are virtually all middle-class, who deny drugs are a problem, and who are amazingly prudish about other people's sex lives.

Lois Duncan breaks some new ground in ["Killing Mr. Griffin"], a novel without sex, drugs or black leather jackets. But the taboo she tampers with is far more potent and pervasive: the unleashed fury of...

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Drew Stevenson

The latest thriller by Lois Duncan, Killing Mr. Griffin …, unfolds as a gag to scare a hated English teacher erupts into a nightmare for a group of high school students in New Mexico…. As in the author's Down a Dark Hall …, skillful plotting builds layers of tension that draw readers into the eye of the conflict. The ending is nicely handled in a manner which provides relief without removing any of the chilling implications.

Drew Stevenson, in his review of "Killing Mr. Griffin," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the May, 1978 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1978), Vol. 24,...

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Kirkus Reviews

[In Killing Mr. Griffin], a portrait of group guilt that recalls Duncan's I Know What You Did Last Summer …, five members of demanding Mr. Griffin's senior English class decide to teach him a lesson by kidnapping him from the high school parking lot and leaving him bound and gagged in a lonely spot out of town—where, before the students return to free him, the teacher dies. (Unknown to the kidnappers, he has been under medication for angina.) The prank is engineered by the stereotypically disturbed and evil Mark…. Shifting viewpoints among the five, their families, and the teacher's wife, Duncan allots the most attention to Susan, the least involved, and she lets her off most easily in the end....

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Hildagarde Gray

Seldom has a book left me more apprehensive as to its merits than Killing Mr. Griffin. Good mysteries are always welcome, and today's young reader enjoys a psychological twist. After all, his favorite geography is that of the inner "me." Points in favor of the book include: fairly decent language, the bad guys get their just desserts, and families work out their problems. The teacher's (Mr. Griffin's) philosophy—"students should be challenged to do their best"—is viewed first from the side of the student and then, in a most perceptive chapter, from the teacher's side—"by the time they're in college it's too late to teach them to study … they expect to be entertained not educated. [As a high-school...

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The Booklist

[In Daughters of Eve, Duncan] distorts feminist principles into weapons of vengeance. A bitter, disturbed teacher turns her malleable high school charges into a confused, misanthropic group of girls who, beneath the facade of a small school-sponsored service club called the Daughters of Eve, use the physical and psychological strength of their numbers to punish traitorous men. Acts of defiance against their families and school, which include violence against a male classmate who takes advantage of the loneliness and sexual naiveté of one of the girls and vandalism perpetrated against an instructor thought to have been unfair, culminate in murder when one of the less stable of the group is threatened by her...

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Cyrisse Jaffee

[Daughters of Eve is a] slick, scary occult novel with a stereotypical "women's libber" (bitter, frustrated, ultimately revealed as mentally disturbed) as the force of evil. Irene Stark, the new faculty advisor of the Daughters of Eve, an exclusive social club for girls at a suburban Michigan high school, encourages the members to become more socially conscious and assertive…. The only doubter is Tammy Carncross, whose ESP (an artificial device) warns her that something is wrong. She is, of course, correct. Ms. Stark has been manipulating the girls and channeling their anger into a vicious hatred of men…. The inevitable denouement is a cold-blooded murder…. Though some may object to the violence, most YAs...

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Kirkus Reviews

In last year's Killing Mr. Griffin, a disturbed and evil high school student led four classmates in kidnapping and inadvertently killing a strict teacher. [In Daughters of Eve] the mad instigator is a new teacher and adviser to the selective, nationally affiliated service club Daughters of Eve; and the instruments of her revenge against males are the club's ten members, whose small Michigan town seems to have been by-passed by the winds of women's liberation…. Despite slickness and stereotypes, Killing Mr. Griffin—and another of Duncan's group-guilt numbers, I Know What You Did Last Summer …—had a good share of seductive suspense; this is just manipulated melodrama. Duncan takes...

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Zena Sutherland

Restricted to a membership of ten, the Daughters of Eve is the most exclusive club at Modesta High School; it is with an invitation to join the group that [Daughters of Eve] begins…. Although the story focuses on … three new members, it includes material about the other girls, about the influence of the bitter teacher who is sponsor for the [strongly feminist] group, about relationships among them, and about the meetings at which they discuss their problems as a group and as individuals. The style and characterization are competent, but the book is weakened by the amount of material and number of characters it covers and it has an embittered tone of hatred that colors the characterization to the extent that...

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Natalie Babbitt

[Daughters of Eve] is a savage novel full of troubled, angry characters. At first it appears that the author has identified completely with Irene Stark, advisor to an exclusive high-school girls' club called "Daughters of Eve" and is speaking to us all when Irene urges the club's 10 members toward action against male chauvinism.

Soon, however, as Irene's paranoia reveals itself, the reader begins to see that Lois Duncan has instead chosen the Movement only as a setting, and is detached enough to use it with great effectiveness. I was reminded of William Golding's "Lord of the Flies"—the horror of Lois Duncan's novel erupts just as violently at the end. Still, "Daughters of Eve" seems less...

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Jan M. Goodman

Daughters of Eve is a suspenseful novel that invalidates legitimate problems by presenting misdirected solutions. The author raises such feminist issues as wife-beating, inequality on the job, unfairness in high school athletics and the sexist dimension of male/female relationships, but the violence of her solutions implies that it may be dangerous to even recognize the issues.

Daughters of Eve is an elite high school group; its ten members are dedicated to sisterhood and sworn to secrecy. The book chronicles the lives of the young women and their new advisor. Irene Stark. (p. 17)

Irene encourages the club members to assert themselves and fight their oppression. At first, the...

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Holly Sandhuber

The element of the supernatural is so gradually and deftly introduced into [Stranger with My Face] that its presence seems natural and believable and, hence, more menacing. While some of the author's attempts at "symbolism" are a bit obvious, and some of the minor characters are sketchily portrayed, most readers will not mind. They will be completely caught up in this suspenseful, gripping book. The ironic surprise ending is one more asset in a finely crafted story.

Holly Sandhuber, in her review of "Stranger with My Face," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the November, 1981 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox...

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Kirkus Reviews

[Stranger with My Face] is one of Duncan's sleazier supernatural thrillers, which doesn't mean that it won't find its shiver-seeking readers. It's told, with appropriate shudders and foreshadowing, by 17-year-old Laurie Stratton, whose senior year of high school on a remote New England island is haunted by (she learns midway) a twin sister left behind when Laurie was adopted as an infant. First, others report seeing Laurie where she wasn't—a boyfriend breaks with her because of the assumed deceit—and at last twin Lia, identical except for those evil, malevolent eyes, reveals herself to Laurie. Laurie's parents confirm the adoption, the twin, and the fact that the girls are half Navaho; and Helen, a new...

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Ann A. Flowers

[In Duncan's Stranger with My Face, protagonist Laurie Stratton] eventually discovered that she was an adopted child, one of a pair of identical twins of an American Indian mother and a white father; she was both fascinated and repelled by her twin, Lia, who became more and more visible and began to exert great influence. But Lia was an envious, malevolent person with a secret aim to inhabit Laurie's body. After several near-tragedies, Lia did take over her twin, and only the quick-witted action of Laurie's sister Megan saved Laurie from roaming forever as a disembodied spirit. The ghostly Lia is deliciously evil; the idea of astral projection—Lia's method of travel—is novel; the island setting is vivid;...

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Terry Lawhead

[Chapters: My Growth As a Writer] is an autobiography of Lois Duncan, and should be classified strictly as such; by no stretch of the imagination should it be regarded as containing information having to do with the craft of writing. We get tales from her teens and before on love and life; we get the chance to read short rejected poems and stories she wrote before making it to the big time. It reads easily, like one of her novels; she has a good hold on her adolescence and one would swear she is indeed 14 years old. She always wanted to write, and it seems she has never had to invent much in the way of plot for her novels: her life is one long teen novel.

Terry Lawhead,...

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Stephanie Zvirin

[In Chapters: My Growth As a Writer, Duncan] displays an intriguing, very different side of herself as she traces her evolution as a writer from its roots in an eager 10-year-old penner of short stories and poetry to her recognition as a full-fledged professional. Filled with her original stories and poems—many written during her teenage years and published in such popular magazines as Seventeen and American Girl—her writer's guide cum autobiographical sketch clearly shows how she used material from her own experiences in her work. She eschews in-depth analysis of her writings and includes disappointingly little about the juvenile novels she is more recognized for today, but she does indeed...

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Jennifer Moody

Lois Duncan, who lives, works and sets her novels in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a recent but immediately successful arrival on the British scene. Popular as she is, not only with the soft underbelly of the literary world, the children's book reviewers, but with its most hardened carapace, the teenage library book borrower, her novel of 1973, I Know What You Did Last Summer has now been published in England….

The story takes place on several levels. As a simple thriller, the mystery of who is responsible for the letters, the threats and the violence, is handled with skill and panache, and, as we have come to expect from Miss Duncan, with a rare gift for suspense. She makes illuminating use...

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Leigh Dean

Avid readers of Duncan's YA novels who are accustomed to unconventional characters, and situations steeped in danger, magic, and intrigue will be hard-pressed to recognize or to relate to the Duncan found in the pages of [Chapters: My Growth As a Writer]. For the person we meet in her published short stories (circa 1949–62), poems, and the connective autobiographical narrative is as conventional, predictable, and comfortably dull as baked beans and apple pie. True, Lois Duncan was a most intuitive and precocious writer, but there is not a glimmer of the person and author she has become. So great is the split between her early "chapters" and her present novels that I think this book may serve to alienate...

(The entire section is 172 words.)

Zena Sutherland

Laurie [narrator of Stranger with My Face] is seventeen. Oldest of three children, she lives a happy and uneventful life on an island off the New England coast, attending school on the mainland, enjoying her friends and her artistic and pleasantly off-beat parents. At first Laurie is puzzled when people say they've seen her in places she hasn't been. Then she sees her doppelgänger—and the book smoothly moves into the occult plane as Laurie learns that the "stranger with her face" is a twin sister who has learned astral projection…. One must, of course, suspend disbelief to accept the story, but Duncan makes it possible and palatable by a deft twining of fantasy and reality, by giving depth to characters...

(The entire section is 208 words.)