Well, this week's book threw me for a loop, and not for any reason I'd ever have imagined.
This is a 1970s classic. Lois Duncan wrote several books about teens and put them in danger, sometimes physical, sometimes supernatural. I devoured her books as a young adolescent. I loved being terrified, and she was darned good at it.
Still is. Summer of Fear holds up very, very well by itself. In a nutshell: Rachel and her family (parents, two brothers) live a comfortable and happy life in Albuquerque until Rachel's aunt and uncle die suddenly, and their only daughter, Julia, comes to live with them. Everyone but Rachel adores Julia. Which is why no one but Rachel suspects there's something not quite right about Julia, something sinister, something deadly...
Awesome, right? It's a page-turner, even for this adult.
This edition? Made me want to cry. It's a 2011 reissue, and apparently Duncan has decided that she should update several of her most popular titles to be more current with today's technology, etc. Be more relevant to those mod, groovy kids. And so this edition has forced-in references to email, cell phones, digital cameras, Photoshop, and Harry Potter.
The problem with this is that it's done in a very half-assed way. It's as if Duncan thought that if she sprinkled a few quick references here and there, voila! Twenty-first century novel. But it doesn't work that way. Let's face it--changes in technology have affected our lifestyles in profound ways, affected our thinking, the way we socialize with each other, the way we work in the world.
Even though these things now show up, they stick out for how out of place they are, and seeing them just raises additional questions. If the primary characters in this book are ages 15-17, why don't any of them mention the internet? Google? Facebook? No one has a Facebook page???
At one point, Rachel mentions her mom took her cell phone away. Like that would stop any enterprising teen--good grief, they *all* have cell phones. When she begins to suspect that Julia has otherworldly powers, what does Rachel do--Google it? Oh, no. Nope, she goes to the library and checks out some books. Because that's totally what a 15-year-old today would think to do first.
Three teenage girls go clothes shopping at the mall, and not one of them sends a text. Heck, none of them even receives a text, because none of them seem to have a cell phone. Ever seen a gaggle of teen girls at the mall? What are the chances at least one of them isn't going to be glued to her phone?
You know what else they do with their phones? They take pictures. Photos play a major role in this book, and ignoring today's cell phone camera culture is ludicrous. I have a vision of a 16-year-old girl today reading this book and coming upon Rachel's suspicion that Julia won't show up in a photo because she's a witch. I think the first thing that girl is going to say is, "Well, look her up on Facebook! Take a picture with your phone!"
My disbelief was so far from being suspended that I cast a jaundiced eye on Rachel's mom, supposedly a professional photographer with an extensive career working with magazines the likes of Seventeen and (another late addition) American Girl. But with a jaunty "Rachel's mom doesn't like digital cameras" dismissal, all of her work is done with film and negative and developed in her darkroom before being mailed to the magazines. Why do I have a really hard time buying that in 2012?
There's a short interview with Duncan at the end of the book:
"The biggest challenge in updating these stories and bringing them into the present day was the dramatic change in technology since the time they were written...I had to find ways of getting rid of those communicative devices in book after book."
Mrs. Duncan, it is not so simple. To really make this book be set today, you would have to do more than toss in a couple of tech tools and then have someone's mom take them away. You would have to change the plot significantly. There's no way Rachel would turn to the public library first. She'd be online, researching. Or even if she went to the library, if her family didn't have a computer (not likely, given that the family seems pretty progressive and well to do), she'd start with a computer there. She would text people. She would try to find Julia online, look for her via Facebook. And oh, what Julia could do with Facebook!
Which leads me finally to the question of: why bother? Great books hold up regardless of when they were written. I don't hear a great outcry for Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca to be updated to 2012. Harriet the Spy works just fine without additional gadgets. You know why? Because the characters and plot are so interesting that we're willing to go back in time. GIve today's teens some credit--I think they might be interested in comparing and contrasting Rachel's actions in 1976 with how they'd handle it today, and honestly? It's scarier to think of Rachel having no cell, no internet, no Facebook to help her cope with the sinister Julia. It's a glimpse into another time and place, but with a situation that's timeless in how scary and frustrating it is.
If this book didn't belong to my local library, I would have heaved it across the room with all my might, so great was my disappointment. Thank goodness I still have my childhood copy of A Gift of Magic to read in a couple of weeks.