Oct 25, 2009

House of Stairs

by William Sleator

Five orphaned teens of widely differing personalities find themselves unwillingly involved in a behavioral experiment. They're all placed in a House of Stairs- an environment made up of staircases, small landings, occasional bridges- no walls, no floor, no place to feel safe. There's a small computer that flashes colors and dispenses food- but only in response to certain actions. Which they have to decipher by guesswork- and the results become more and more bizarre, until the kids are barely holding onto their sanity. I read this book a long time ago as a teen and it really made an impression on me. The characters are a bit flat and stereotypical, but the dynamics of their interactions and the different ways they respond to the challenges they face make it an interesting read. It really gave me the shivers back then, but now I want to read it just to pick apart what made some of the kids come out of it okay, and the others drive themselves to disintegration.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 166 pages, 1974

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  1. Hooray! I've been wanting another William Sleator book and not sure which one to pick up. I think we have a winner. :)

  2. This sounds like what we do to animals in experiments. The book sounds interesting enough that I'd like to read it.

  3. Jenny- it's a good one. Another really creepy one is Interstellar Pig, the first Sleator I ever read. Must write about it here soon.

    Bermudaonion- that's exactly what I was thinking- how's an animal supposed to figure out which behavior we're rewarding? It's all disturbing when applied to kids, and taken this far.

  4. You are my hero!! I have been trying to think of this title and/or author for years. I read this book when I was a kid. Not sure I totally understood it, but I have thought about it many a time over the past 30 years, but could never remember what it was called. Thank you thank you thank you.

  5. When I think about this book, I still get a little creeped out. It's interesting, though, that even as a kid reading it I recognized that the characters weren't the most original in the world. I also always wondered how exactly the room could possibly work. It still doesn't make much sense to me... I'll have to reread it sometime to see how it holds up.

  6. Thomas- this makes me so glad. There are still some books I am trying to remember the names of...

    Anonymous Child- I know what you mean about the room. I kept thinking if they went far enough in one direction, surely they'd find a wall? unless the stairs kept wrapping around each other like an Escher picture.

  7. Anonymous10/28/2009

    Sounds interesting. I think I, personally, would go insane.

  8. This sounds really scary, ans something like that done to children is just terrible.


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