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The first Young Adult novel Ive read as an adult is Down a Dark Hall, the supernatural mystery by Lois Duncan first published in 1974. This revised edition released in 2011 modernized the novel by introducing cell phones, texting and the Internet; Why dont those girls call 911? or better yet, Isnt there an app for that? being considerations for the suspense author of today. Antiquated usages like Mother were also updated, but what I was thrilled to find preserved was a sense of Gothic dread that reaches back to the early 20th century and beyond, where haunted manors, creepy headmistresses and raving lunacy were the top existential threats to teenage girls.The story begins with sixteen year old Kit Gordy being driven through the countryside by her new stepfather and her newly remarried mother, who are off to honeymoon in Europe while Kit is enrolled at Blackwood School for Girls. A city girl, Kit is despondent at being dumped in the sticks and separated from her best friend, who applied to the same boarding school but did not pass the entrance exam. Arriving in Blackwood Village, Kits stepfather receives directions from a gas station attendant, as well as some exposition: the school was once the Brewer place, recently purchased and renovated by some foreign lady. A townie named Natalie Cullers has been employed as cook.Pulling onto the grounds of Blackwood School, Kit senses something evil under the eaves. The headmistress, Madame Duret, welcomes Kit, who has arrived a day ahead of the other students. Kits apprehension is initially soothed by the decor of her private room, which is furnished with antique comforts including a canopy bed. Above all, Kit doesnt want to ruin her mothers honeymoon by making a scene. Joining Madame Duret for dinner, Kit is introduced to Professor Farley, who teaches math and science and the headmistresss dashing son Jules, who teaches music. Kit is alarmed that along with Madame Duret, the languages and literature instructor, this is the entire faculty.After a night of restless sleep, exacerbated by a door that only locks from the outside and a forebodingly dark corridor outside, Kit meets the schools cook Natalie, who she learns will be preparing food for the entire student body. Even stranger, the townie has been instructed not to converse with the student body. Kit finally locates the first of her classmates, a shy redhead named Sandra Mason. The girls watch a limousine drop off two more students--a blonde beauty later introduced as Lynda Hannah and a mousy brain named Ruth Crowder. The gates to the property are sealed and Kit gets the sinking realization that they are the only students enrolled at the school.Kit is awakened by a shriek from Sandras room. Braving the dark corridor, Kit finds Sandras door locked, which should be impossible if shes behind the door. Kit forces her way inside the chilly room where Sandra is troubled by a nightmare in which she imagined a woman standing over her bed. Returning to Kits room for the night, they realize that they both had psychic experiences as children--Kit being visited by her father the morning he was killed in a traffic accident, Sandra receiving a premonition of her parents disappearing over the Caribbean. Kit is confident that Lynda and Ruth were both enrolled by Madame Duret, and not her friend, due to similar experiences.Strangeness is afoot at Blackwood School For Girls. Lynda discovers she can sketch a detailed portrait. Kit catches Jules listening to a piano composition she knows shes heard somewhere, even though the headmistresss son tells Kit he doesnt know it. Natalie confides that Mr. Brewer, the previous owner of the house, lost his family in a fire and withdrew from village life until he lost his mind. Madame Duret notifies the girls that Natalie has quit. Kit is confident that something sinister is going on. Isolated at the school fifteen miles from the village without Internet and with their handwritten letters going unreturned, the girls have no choice but try to survive until Christmas break.To a critical thinker, Down a Dark Hall is one of the most implausible books Ive ever read (keep in mind its my first foray into Young Adult fiction). Even by the standards of the day it was originally published, its difficult to accept that parents would enroll their little princesses in an uncredentialed boarding school overrun by ghosts, particularly one where their daughter is unable to contact them by phone, fax or email. The girls are discouraged from simply going AWOL by the presence of some spikes atop the fenceline (Im for real). All of this makes the belief in psychic phenomena and ghosts seem credible by comparison.At 49,000 words, the novel is a quick read and an elementary one. On a superficial level, Kit seems unburdened by anything that Nancy Drew hadnt encountered in one of her mysteries, or Scooby Doo for that matter. What elevates Kit above other childrens sleuths and makes Down a Dark Hall compelling is its emotional depth. From the beginning, Kit is given reason to mistrust adults and feel both alienated and powerless. She is driven from her home and her support network. Shes cast off to fend for herself. She taps into a reserve of power, but also something inside her that is new and terrifying. Duncan calls these spirits but sex can easily be read between the lines.Time has demonstrated that Duncan, author of I Know What You Did Last Summer and Killing Mr. Griffin among other tales of terror dealing with the isolation and victimization of teenage girls, is operating on another level here. It says something for the existential dread of her writing that readers in the 1970s, 1990s and present day can inject their own fears into her text and with a few minor adjustments for technological progress, the story can be as unsettling as ever. I also liked the solution to the mystery, which involves (view spoiler)[the exploitation of psychic teens for the common good, as Madame Duret sees it, of communicating with geniuses like Vermeer, Schubert and Emily Bronte who deprived the world of major works by their untimely deaths (hide spoiler)]

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