Revisiting Sleator

Growing up as a reader in the 70s and 80s, I wasn’t exposed to much young adult literature. Yes, it was around (Cormier, for instance, was writing a lot during this time and I do remember encountering The Chocolate War as a high schooler.) But mostly I read what was assigned for school or what seemed to be literary (yes, I was something of a literary snob even before I was an English major in college.)

However, I recently finished a book by an author who I actually remember from my own teenage years, William Sleator. I didn’t read this book, Blackbriar, as a teen, but I did read two other books from Sleator, Interstellar Pig and House of Stairs (both of which I remember fondly). I was drawn to Blackbriar because it’s Sleator’s first book for teen readers and it’s a suspense-horror story set in a ramshackle, isolated little cottage–just the kind of gothic sort of tale I’ve been looking at lately.

The story is of Danny, a teen whose parents have died and who has been given into the care of a former school secretary who decides to leave London and move to the country. She finds the aforementioned abandoned cottage and the two move in. It’s not long before they realize there’s a mysterious history to the house and Danny is joined by a local girl who shares his interest in figuring out that mystery. The book features many gothic trappings, including a mystery, strange denizens from the local town, and Danny’s dreams of haunting laughter and strange, firelit ceremonies in the night. It’s a fun read, although it falls apart a bit towards the end as Sleator ties up various loose ends.

If we can begin to consider some books in the YA canon as “classics,” given how long they’ve been around and maintained a certain level of respect or popularity, then Sleator’s work certainly qualifies. While Blackbriar may not be his best work (I’d suggest Interstellar Pig or House of Stairs for those wanting to read his work), it’s a fun read that holds up even after a few decades.

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