I really hadn’t planned to re-read more than one of Lois Duncan’s novels for the Shelf Discovery Reading Challenge but I enjoyed Down a Dark Hall so much that I re-considered. I was really expecting it to feel more dated (and maybe it would have if I wasn’t approaching it with an element of fondness) and that was true, to an extent, with Five Were Missing (more commonly titled Ransom). I mean, one of the characters actually says ‘Golly’ and ‘Gee’: that’s not something you run across in contemporary writing for kids. And some of it is a little overwritten, maybe, but the suspense elements were solid, and so I slipped the Lois Duncan novels back on the shelf feeling satisfied.
[Edited to add that despite some elements feeling dated, I must have been decidedly creeped out by Five Were Missing; the story of five kids being kidnapped on their regular bus route after school, by a stand-in driver who claims he’s a substitute, nagged like a mosquito bite on the morning that I ended up alone on the streetcar on my way to work one morning, which has never happened before, my only reassurance being that the thing rides on rails, which would make it an extremely inefficient kidnapping vehicle. Maybe we never really get over our childhood fears?!]
The Duncan books are linked, inextricably in my mind which the Joan Lowery Nixon books, and re-reading The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore was a natural choice. I think I read and re-read the beginning of this novel more than I read its second half because I remember the scenes surrounding the kidnapping more vividly than any others.
In fact, I had completely forgotten the bulk of the book, which is preoccupied with her determination to prove that she was not, as accused, an instigator of that kidnapping plot, in an apparent attempt to gain access to her trust fund before she is of age. What I remember is the scene of her being taken, the days she spent in the basement, the attempts she made to escape: I was sure that I would be kidnapped (the fact that my family lived off Kraft Dinner not trust funds did not suggest this to be an irrational fear) and I guess I felt that I needed to know about kidnapping, not about making good with my rich family members after I’d been rescued. Click the continue link if the KD reference didn’t make you too hungry to keep reading.
But these books were part of a wider interest in, fascination with, obsession with books about survival. At first it might not seem obvious, the link between Lois Duncan and Joan Lowery Nixon novels with the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but the characters endure seemingly unendurable situations and they come out the other side of them, often stronger and more confident than before; whether the battle was with kidnappers or a series of devastating blizzards (as in The Long Winter, my favourite of the Little House books), I was most keenly interested in this kind of story.
Re-reading The Long Winter felt particularly satisfying on stormy January nights. With windchills in the minus-twenties, it seemed that much easier to imagine Laura and Mary waking to the sight of nail heads covered in frost under the eaves where they slept. I grew up watching the series on TV so it wasn’t surprising that I read the books a lot, and they were readily available because family members gave them to me as gifts when I was a child. I remember reading The Long Winter and On the Shores of Silver Lake more than most; Little Town on the Prairie would have been next and then the rest would settle in a lump with Farmer Boy and The First Four Years bringing up the rear. (I find this funny because while I don’t even think I finished those two, Farmer Boy was one of Lizzie Skurnick’s favourites in her Shelf Discovery.)
And, paradoxically, I found it satisfying to read Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins on cold winter nights as well because scenes of sand and sun were so comforting and such a contrast to the current low temperatures. Sure, Karana was anxious because the ship, which had taken away the rest of her clan, didn’t return as quickly for her as she had expected, and there were storms and wild dogs, and sure she had to overcome the tribal prohibition against females making and using weapons fur survival, but overall her life on the island seemed enviable in many ways. As a girl I had absolutely no faith in the ship’s return: her rescue wasn’t a “sure thing”, even on re-reads.
Another survival story that affected me fundamentally was Robert C. O’Brien’s Z is for Zachariah, but I never had my own copy it, only borrowed it repeatedly from the library. [Side Note: I finally read his Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH a couple of years ago, for the first time, and I loved it. Not in a “Good but I would have loved it more as a kid” way, but in a genuine through-and-through “Loved this great book” way.] I haven’t read it since my early high school years: I’m curious…