HOUSE OF STAIRS

A riveting suspense novel with an anti-behaviorist message that works, despite the lack of subtlety or originality, because it emerges only slowly from the chilling events. Five sixteen-year-olds, all of them orphans from institutions, are separately blindfolded and taken to an enormous, mystifying enclosure, consisting of nothing but an endless series of flights of stairs, which is later identified as a prototype "reinforcement center" for training (under Presidential contract) an elite corps of Gestapolike super-plumbers who can be relied upon to follow orders without question and without getting caught. The subjects of course are given no explanation for their abduction or any hint as to what is expected of them, and readers as well learn only gradually that the glowing machine on one landing dispenses food, that they must figure out what sort of behavior on their part will get it to work, that the rules themselves change unpredictably, and at last that it will reward them only when they are cruel to one another. It is at this point that two of the five, a tough rebellious girl and a boy who had seemed cowardly, dependent and dangerously withdrawn, refuse to cooperate — moving to another landing where they weaken physically while the other three are systematically dehumanized by the machine. Before Lola and Peter can starve quite to death (and, it happens, just as Lola is about to give in) the experiment is terminated by a scientist obviously chagrined by the two "intractables" though he plans to send the other three — now vicious, untrusting robots — on for further training. House of Stairs is really more a scenario than a novel and as a scenario it has its vulnerable links — for example, Lola's instinctive use of positive reinforcement to strengthen Peter's resolve and her assertion to the doctor later that rewards work better than punishments begs the moral/ political question of mind control per se. But Sleater does a masterly job of differentiating and developing his five human subjects, compelling readers to share in the process of their enlightenment, and communicating his ominous conjecture.

Pub Date: April 1, 1974

ISBN: 0140345809

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1974

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Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.

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WE WERE LIARS

A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.

Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.

Riveting, brutal and beautifully told. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74126-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.

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THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END

What would you do with one day left to live?

In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.

Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises. (Speculative fiction. 13-adult).

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245779-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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