My first-ever column at Kirkus was about a Lois Duncan title. So, what better way to celebrate my first anniversary here—and Halloween—than with another one?

Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on the coming-of-age novel Jasper Jones.

You know those stories in which All Trouble Would Be Avoided if the heroine simply talked to an adult (or, heck, even a peer), but illogically avoids doing so for ridiculously convoluted reasons, and thus, what should have been a novella becomes a full-length trilogy? So irritating, right? It’s a common plothole that results in the protagonist being slotted into the dreaded Too Stupid To Live (TSTL) category.

In revisiting Lois Duncan’s Locked in Time, something occurred to me: In every single ’80s teen thriller I’ve read, the heroine does attempt to talk to an adult. And every single time, she gets shot down, accused of all manner of horribleness, and becomes the Family Outcast. (Until, of course, she saves the day. Though, even with the happy ending, she is rarely exonerated.) So maybe, just maybe, all of our modern TSTL heroines are closet Duncan fans, and I’ve been being too hard on them all of this time. 

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Rather than Duncan’s usual generic suburban setting, Locked in Time is an attempt at Southern Gothic. In it, 16-year-old Nore Robbins leaves New England to spend the summer in Louisiana at her new stepmother’s ancestral estate. While her new relatives are mostly charming and seemingly kind, Nore can’t help but feel that there’s something off at Shadow Grove. There’s a strange tension among the members of her father’s new family, and for some reason, they feel threatened by Nore’s amazing ability to wake up without an alarm clock. Her stepmother is obsessed with privacy, her stepbrother regularly drugs the adults, and her young stepsister swans around claiming to have witnessed events that occurred decades ago and wails things like, “Nothing’s ever going to change, Nore! Time just keeps going by, and it doesn’t count for anything!” 

What ever could be going on??

SPOILER: Nore’s new family doesn’t age.

Due to Nore’s amazingly overdramatic narration—as well as her tendency to sound more like an 87-year-old than a teenager—and some hilariously bad dialogue, this Southern Gothic is more in the vein of more V.C. Andrews* than Cherie Priest. Never fear! That doesn’t stop it from being entertaining. It’s unabashedly full of the woo-woo, with almost every chapter ending on a note like:

I stared into those luminous eyes, and a chill shot through me. What I saw there was not the promise of friendship, but of something strange and sinister.

The shocking word that flashed through my mind was “death.”

It’s especially fun to read aloud in Movie Trailer Voice.

Ridiculous? Yes. Unintentionally so? Yes. That’s part of the fun. But in addition to being so-bad-it’s-good, and despite the eye-poppingly terrible prose, there’s a kernel of true horror in Locked in Time: Can you imagine spending eternity as a 13-year-old? Not just physically, but emotionally and mentally? 

The thought genuinely gives me chills.


*PG V.C. Andrews, though: The brief romance with her stepbrother is quite chaste. So, yay! No incest.

If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably maniacally organizing all of her music into far-too-specific Spotify playlists.