Book review: Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan

The new cover (L) and the cover I remember from 1993 (R).

The new cover (L) and the cover I remember from 1993 (R).

Here and there, when I have the courage, I have been rereading books I loved when I was a kid.  I reread The Secret Garden (which I might actually love even more now than when I was 8), The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (still great), and Haunted (which was worth the effort to track down). I still have a small to-be-read list. But I also reread Down a Dark Hall, which I checked out from the middle school library about a dozen times in my early teens.

I wasn’t sure whether or not to expect this book to be spooky, since I didn’t remember being at all frightened by it when I first read it in the 6th grade. (Honestly, all I remembered was the headmistress’s “dreamy” son, Jules.) On second reading, more than 20 years later, it is not spooky at all. (Nor is it terribly engaging. All the characters are pretty two-dimensional.)

But I was terribly distracted by the “modernizations.” When my copy came from the library the back warned of “modernized text” and I wondered what that could possibly mean. This book was originally published in 1974. Though that was a little before my time, we spoke modern English then, I’ve heard.

The “modernizations” are revised descriptions of clothing (the bellbottoms I distinctly remember Jules wearing when I was in the 6th grade are now “fitted jeans”) and repetitive mentions of widescreen TVs, cell phones, and internet. Perhaps it would not seem so to a first time reader, but to me these additions seemed to be shoehorned in just as ineffectively as the CGI extras that were inserted into the original Star Wars movies.

My teenaged nieces can navigate Dickens, Hemingway, and Salinger without difficulty, but the publisher thinks they’ll balk at the lack of technology in the 1970s?

— Amanda


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