Autumn leaves are falling, and we all know what that means…Halloween is just around the corner! So, to celebrate, here’s a spooky old favorite: Down a Dark Hall, by Lois Duncan
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Kit is being sent to boarding school. It’s not her choice…her mother has married Dan Rheardon and is going on a year-long honeymoon trip to Europe. Kit would have liked to go with them, but Dan disagreed. Honeymoons, he said, were no place for 14 year old girls. Instead, he suggested that Kit apply to Blackwood School for Girls, an exclusive boarding school, with her best friend Tracy. Kit agreed that the brochure looked interesting, and since Tracy was excited about the prospect, they applied together.
Waiting to hear from the school, Kit went along with all the changes in her life–wedding, stepfather, moving and a starting this new school–because Tracy was at her side. Together, they had been looking forward to the experience. But then Tracy got the notice that she wasn’t accepted, even though her grades were much better than Kit’s. Kit begged and pleaded to either go to Europe with the newlyweds or to go to a different school, but Dan refused to change the plan. Kit WAS going to Blackwood, and that was it.
Blackwood School turns out to be a huge, imposing mansion on the top of a hill; dark, mysterious, and impressive. Kit feels a shiver of fear at the sight of it. When it comes time to go inside to see her room for the year, she identifies the fear. The house is evil, and she doesn’t want to spend one second inside. Unfortunately, Dan is as determined as she is, and he and her mother leave Kit behind at the school as they head off for their European honeymoon.
Was it evil that Kit felt? Or was she just frightened of losing her mother for a year? Does her memory of seeing her father–after he died–have anything to do with her fears?
When Kit discovers that the “exclusive Blackwood School for Girls” is actually home to a grand total of four students, she knows that something is very, very wrong. But she and the other girls are locked in their rooms, behind the gates of Blackwood mansion, with nowhere else to go and no way to reach their friends in the world outside. Will four very different girls be able to pull together to figure out what is going on and fight the evil visiting them in their dreams? Or are they doomed to be walking the dark halls of the Blackwood mansion for eternity?
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Down a Dark Hall was originally published in 1974, and anyone who was a teenager at that time probably read it. Kids at my school library were still fighting over who was going to read it next a few years later! Lois Duncan was considered the best writer around, and her books were devoured by mystery and horror fans alike, as well as anyone who liked a good read.
As you’re reading, the atmosphere and oppressive feeling of the mansion will stay with you, as will Kit’s confusion and dawning horror as she figures out what is going on. She does find some allies in the battle for her survival, but to tell you more would give too much away. There’s a reason why people remember this book years after finishing it!
So if you’re looking for a story with a good creep-out factor, try Down a Dark Hall. I read it in sixth grade, which is really the perfect time. However, it would be appropriate for fifth through eighth grade. And if you liked it, you could also try Duncan’s other books–especially Stranger with My Face or Summer of Fear. Two more creepy reads that are sure to take over your life as you race to reach the end and find out What Happened!