The news of Lois Duncan’s death reached me today.
Lois, a revolutionary author who essentially created her own genre of young adult suspense, died yesterday at her home at 82 years old.
Her best-known title is probably “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” which was turned into a blockbuster movie in 1997, back when I was 10 years old. I never saw the movie, but I read the book.
In fact, I read nearly all of her books. When I was in junior high, the girls of Mazon-Verona-Kinsman Middle School went through a Lois Duncan craze. Mystery and suspense novels were kept on a small, three-shelf bookcase near the back of the library, close to the card catalogue (back when we still had physical cards in drawers and hadn’t fully transitioned to online catalogues).
I frequented the shelf to check out Nancy Drew mysteries. One day I noticed a group of girls — popular girls — from my class clustered around the shelf. I drifted over to see what they were reading. Each had a Lois Duncan book in her hand.
After they wandered away, I checked the shelf to see if any books were left. There were a few, so I picked up “Killing Mr. Griffin.” If popular girls were reading these books, I figured I’d read them, too. That would give me a talking point with them, and maybe I could merge into their clique. I didn’t know enough about celebrities or our middle school basketball program to connect with them over those topics, but I could definitely talk books.
They saw through my plan pretty quickly. A couple of them also resented that I would check out a Lois books they hadn’t read yet, so they had to wait an extra week or two before they could read it.
Even though everyone could see through my plot, the unanticipated side effect was that I became a fan. And on a fortunate thrift store excursion, I hit the motherlode: nearly all of Lois’ books, priced at 25 cents each.
The popular girls were able to borrow the library copies, unhindered by me. And I was able to read them all first. I even found a couple titles our school library didn’t even have.
I became obsessed, reading one after another. As soon as the last page was turned in one book, I closed the cover and opened the next. After a reading diet almost exclusive to fantasy, animal tales, and sanitized mysteries like Nancy Drew, I expanded my tastes.
My imagination ran away with “Stranger With My Face.” What if I could project myself out of my body and roam the world? I daydreamed about going into witness protection and fleeing a hitman, like April in “Don’t Look Behind You.” I commiserated with the girls in “Daughters of Eve” — and was horrified by their deeds. My love of supernatural stories was satisfied with “The Third Eye” and “Gallows Hill.”
I never became one of the popular girls, but I found a new author whose books I loved. I read twelve of her novels before I moved on to other books, but hers remain some of my most memorable reading in junior high.
Lois’ writing career understandably tapered off after the murder of her daughter. She once posed the hypothetical to the press: How could she keep writing about young women in peril after her own daughter was killed? The murder remained unsolved, so she took it upon herself to pursue answers. She later wrote the nonfiction book “Who Killed My Daughter?”
(For those interested, BuzzFeed did an in-depth article in 2014, “Who Killed Lois Duncan’s Daughter,” which is worth a reader.)
I hope Lois rests peacefully now. In her honor, I may pick up one of her books and read it before bed tonight. I may rest uneasily after, thinking I see hitmen in the shadows or an evil twin will snatch my body, but that’s a compliment to her writing.
Goodbye, Lois. Thanks for all the books.