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Unsung Book Week: HOUSE OF STAIRS

As explained here, I've made this week is Unsung Book Week at my blog. Feel free to join in and share your favorite less-talked-about books, either in the comments or at your own blog.

My local library didn't have a huge selection of YA books, and most of what they had was a little dated. However, I am thankful for that, because otherwise I might not have stumbled on this little book that was published six years before I was born, and has stuck with me for the more-than-a-dozen years since I first read it:

HOUSE OF STAIRS by William Sleator




What it's all about:

One morning, five teens wake up to find themselves trapped in a huge room filled with stairs and platforms. Walls, floor, and ceiling are too far away to be seen; it's just them and the stairs. And a food dispenser that requires them to do an increasingly complicated "dance" in order to receive the strange pellets that are the only available nourishment. At first the dance is just a series of movements and sounds, but gradually the dispenser begins to reward the teens every time one turns against another. As the demands become more and more cruel, Lola and Peter make a stand, refusing to participate. But can they hold out long enough, against the others' aggression and their own hunger, to win this terrible game?

Why it is awesome:

As a psych major, I take particular pleasure in seeing how the "house of stairs" makes a perfect example of behavioral conditioning: reinforcement and punishment, shaping and chaining. But as a teen I didn't know that--I just knew this was a simple yet horrifying picture of how people can be manipulated by their own needs, and how desperate situations can bring out both the worst and best in people. It's short on pages, but long in its ability to unsettle, in the most unshakable way.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
libation
Oct. 8th, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
Ahhh! You and I were like psychic book friends. Another book that definitely shaped me, too. When I started watching LOST I figured out a lot of things ahead of time because of this book.
megancrewe
Oct. 9th, 2008 12:56 pm (UTC)
Hee, I know you were a ZKS fan, but I didn't know you liked Sleator, too! We were reader-twins!
libation
Oct. 9th, 2008 01:07 pm (UTC)
I also loved Interstellar Pig and Singularity by Sleator. And The Headless Cupid and The Egypt Game by Snyder. The Egypt Game is still very popular today, I love giving that book to kids.
rj_anderson
Oct. 8th, 2008 03:19 pm (UTC)
Oh yes! I remember that book too! You're right, it was vivid and very chilling. Now I want to read it again!
megancrewe
Oct. 9th, 2008 12:57 pm (UTC)
You should! The prose is a little clunky, but once you get into it you hardly notice. :)
robinellen
Oct. 8th, 2008 04:01 pm (UTC)
I'm a huge William Sleator fan -- my fav is INTO THE DREAM. I love the whole dog's POV aspect :)
megancrewe
Oct. 9th, 2008 12:57 pm (UTC)
I have never read INTO THE DREAM! I'll have to check it out.
hadaverde
Oct. 8th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)
House of Stairs is the number one most asked-after book over on the whatwasthatbook community -- it apparently left a huge impression on everyone who ever read it, but for some reason, its name is often forgotten even though the plot hangs around in the back of the mind for decades on end. :)
megancrewe
Oct. 9th, 2008 12:58 pm (UTC)
That's funny! I remember having trouble recalling the name myself, when I first tried to track down a copy to own. But at least I remembered the author, which made it much easier.
shoebox2
Oct. 9th, 2008 03:39 am (UTC)
Ooh, yeah, this one stays with you. Especially the montage-y bit that shows the three remaining teens each carefully plotting how best to cause maximum misery and/or humiliation to the others. Not out of anger or pain or panic; simply because it's what the machine is telling them to do. Deeply freaky.

I'd suggest the staying power of this kind of book can be measured in its degree of psychological realism - as per a kiddie version of Nineteen Eighty-Four, there's nothing to assure that you, the reader, would've done anything differently, would've made the right choices. So the unanswered questions linger on...

Edited at 2008-10-09 03:45 am (UTC)
megancrewe
Oct. 9th, 2008 12:59 pm (UTC)
Very true! Especially knowing that if the scientists had waited just a little longer to stop, it would have turned out so much worse. :P
lizjonesbooks
Dec. 17th, 2008 12:09 am (UTC)
Ohhh I *adored* this story! Thanks for posting the link!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

My Books


Earth & Sky
(Earth & Sky #1, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2014


The Clouded Sky
(Earth & Sky #2, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015


A Sky Unbroken
(Earth & Sky #3, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015


The Way We Fall
(Fallen World #1, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2012


The Lives We Lost
(Fallen World #2, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2013


The Worlds We Make
(Fallen World #3, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2014


Those Who Lived: Fallen World Stories
(Fallen World #3.5, apocalyptic YA)
self pubbed, 2014


Give Up the Ghost
(paranormal YA)
Henry Holt, 2009

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