Synopsis: Nore Robbins is a beautiful seventeen year old who recently lost her mother and whose father remarried within a year of the loss. She’s spending the summer in Louisiana (at the Shadow Grove manor) to get acquainted with her new family. She gets dreams of her mother warning her of terrible danger, but she figures it must be her imagination.
Her new stepmother Lisette Berge is movie-star gorgeous, with a son Gabe who is also gorgeous and about 18, and a young teenager Josie, who looks like she could grow up to be a beauty but right now is a bundle of awkwardness. Josie is very talkative, and blurts out things that don’t make any sense. For example, it sounds as though the family moves A LOT. Josie says she remembers cities by big events, like in Hartford when the circus tent caught fire. Nore, who has a built-in alarm clock and a fantastic sense of time, realizes this is impossible since her mother missed that circus on her eleventh birthday. (Nore was a born history major, I could never get specific dates down.)
Other strange things happen as well. Gabe, Josie, and Nore go to a teen disco after giving the parents the “sleepy-time anisette.” Gabe almost kills everybody on the drive home, but when he sees cop lights, he asks Nore to switch places since he doesn’t have a driver’s license. She asks him for an explanation, but it turns out to be something about a quirk in his birth certificate. Nore also hears older people recognize Lisette from years and years ago. She claims they must be thinking of her mom, for whom she was named after. But, Nore reasons, Berge is her married name… not her maiden name.
Nore is getting closer to Josie and Gabe, when one day Gabe takes her on a fishing trip. He offers to run away with her. When she declines the offer, he knocks her off the boat by starting it while she’s standing, and leaves her in the lake. She can’t swim and he knows it. Furious, she manages to get home through the kindness of strangers and tells her dad everything. Dad responds, “Gabe had a goose egg the size of an apple on his head, so he went into the hospital, and that must’ve been why he didn’t see you… ” Nore knows it was an attempt on her life. She closes herself off from her new family and becomes extra suspicious. She decides to research to confirm/deny ideas about her new family. She drives into town and asks a friend, Dave, if he knows anyone who knew the history of Shadow Grove . She meets an old man who tells a strange tale: The Berge family owned the house since the antebellum era. There was a beautiful woman with her two sons and a daughter. Her husband died of a tragic accident, and they moved away. About twenty years later, the daughter had grown up with three kids of her own, and her husband died of a freak accident, and they moved away. About twenty years later, her daughter comes home with three kids, and her husband dies in an unforeseeable accident. (At this point, or around it, Louis, the second son, dies of a “freak accident” of his own.) The story is kind of repetitive, as you can see. Nore confirms that her stepfamily lives eternally like this over and over, and that it’s not a generational coincidence. She has pieced together from what Gabe told her and what she’s discovered is that Lisette plots to become a wealthy widow to survive in a world where it would be impossible for her to get a job without a driver’s license and social security card. Chuck Robbins’s will is split between Lisette and Nore; Nore, therefore, is on the hit list. Dave doesn’t quite believe her theories, but he recognizes that she’s scared for her life and something is definitely amiss at Shadow Grove. He asks her out for the next evening.
Nore gets more proof in Lisette’s diaries, locked away in a shed. Lisette details how in the 1880s, she was feeling the loss of her beauty as her husband sneaked off for an affair with a Cajun woman. When Lisette confronts the woman, the woman offers a voodoo potion to make time stand still for Lisette, and (since Lisette wished for it) her children. Nore wants to share this knowledge with her father, but the diary is taken from her room right before he leaves for a business trip. She’s in grave danger. Fortunately, Dave is coming that night for a date when she can escape.
Gabe tries to kill Nore again, but Dave intervenes. Lisette comes out with a gun, and locks Dave and Nore in the shed and sets it on fire. Gabe gives Josie the keys to get them out as soon as they’re gone. Lisette and Gabe have a tragic accident on the way to the fire department. The Robbins take care of Josie now, and the account is written down so that Nore’s future generations will know how to handle their dear aunt Josie.
- Hands down, my favorite Lois Duncan book.
- I’d also like to note that I just turned 27 and could still pass for 16. This doesn’t exactly make me proud; most of the time it’s a complete pain. But when I’m older, it’ll be awesome. And that kind of goes with this book?
- Poor Josie, to be stuck at thirteen FOR-EV-ER. It makes my heart hurt thinking about it. She makes a lot of comments about her mom because everyone tries to reassure her by saying she’ll look just like her. How cruel…
- Very Gone with the Wind- esque.
- Details that wouldn’t fit in a short summary: Shadow Grove getting renovated, which is where Dave comes in. They have one “outsider” regularly come by to clean house, the Cajun girl Celina. Celina’s granddad is the one they meet for information.
- I personally don’t like the updated cover. I found a copy at the used book store that is an hourglass with bloody sand, which is (what I’m sure) I grew up with.
- It was published in 1985, so it has references to discos? To be fair, in small town Louisiana this was probably a really cool thing. (Josie: “I’ve been to discos WHY wilder than this!” <– Nore naively thinks, hmm, even I haven’t had a chance to do that… what kind of wild life is my sister living?)
- And to go along with that, Josie complains that her mother never lets them do anything, “What’s the point of living if you can’t have fun now?” Touche, my dear. No sense in living forever if you can’t live it up.
- Oh right, they can’t technically live forever, as Louis committed suicide and I’m pretty sure Gabe purposefully wrapped the car around a tree, but if you don’t die in an “accident” you technically could live forever. You’re forever young and healthy.
Grades: 6-8. I know this was the time I was completely into Duncan and her suspense novels.
Grade: A. Well-written, nicely paced, a good “Twilight Zone” sort of mystery.