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House of Stairs One by one five sixteen year old orphans are brought to a strange building It is not a prison not a hospital; it has no walls no ceiling no floor Nothing but endless flights of stairs leading nowhere except back to a strange red machine The five must learn to love the machine and let it rule their lives But will they let it kill their souls I think this is the last entry in my YA Sci Fi kick but it's a high note to end on I've spent than half my life searching for this book Really I checked it out from the Lawrence Public Library when I was 9 or 10 and read the first 15 pages and then it got away from me I remember everything about it vividly 5 teenage orphans in a near future distopia find themselves without explanation in a gigantic white room consisting only of endless staircases and a machine that irregularly dispenses sausage when one character sticks out her tongue except for the title and author And how could I go to a librarian and describe the convoluted plot of an obscure 70's kids book? For some reason I thought I couldn't So I would think about this book from time to time for the next 18 years despairingly and then I was reading a review of The Hunger Games in the New Yorker and Laura Miller gave a uick summary of the genre of YA distopic sci fi and described this book with complete citations So I retrieved it from the library probably the exact same copy I read when I was 9 and I read it in a few hours and it's great Simple and scary with both inspiring and disturbing implications about the human soul Just what kids want Now that I've settled this part of my childhood I can continue reading the metafiction of my agegroup After googling different phrases for a while I finally found the name of the book I read when I was around 12 that catapulted me into my interest into psychology and the human mind The story of five teenagers locked in a place that consisted only of stairs and landings the way they were trained like Pavlov's dogs to respond to the demands of a machine for food demands that became ever horrible I remember reading this and being horrified by concepts I couldn't uite yet really grasp but what stuck with me was the fact that not everyone acuiesced The last scene of the book with the traffic light I think cemented my firm regard and defense of individuality even before I could verbalize that notion While I didn't understand it really as a kid this book and the message in its story has remained with me my entire life This would definitely be listed as one of the Impact Books in my life I haven't re read it as an adult yet but I will be It will be interesting to see how it speaks now A chilling and suspenseful tale that stick with the reader for years to comeThis book is recommended for 9 12 year olds however I think it might be a bit intense for the younger side of this group and I as an adult thoroughly enjoyed Slater's treatment of this psychological horrorPersonal Note I read this book as a tween and it stuck with me all these years I remember not being able to put it down and upon revisiting it it is still just as fascinating to me I read many of the com reviews and so many of them were from adults that still remember the impact this book had on themMy ReviewThis is an incredibly creative and original science fiction tale that chronicles the events that take place when five teen aged orphans are behaviorally trained to respond to a machine Similarly to Lord of the Flies anarchy rules and the reader is able to view the dark side of humanity when left to its own devices This might be a new exploration for the tween who for the most part has been exposed to heartwarming tales There is nothing warm and fuzzy in this book It is sheer dark and cold though we do see triumph of inner character from some of the players The author draws the reader in immediately and through crafty writing is able to keep the reader right at the edge unable to put the book down This book is a great introduction to science fiction and psychological thrillers A uniue and memorable tale the terrifying tale is one that could be enjoyed by older tweens Young adult fiction must be a really tough genre to wrap your head around for a writer You have a story that you want to tell and you have to tell it in such a way that it is simple enough for your target audience to read yet engaging enough to keep them reading The themes have to be familiar enough for them to understand and relate to yet unusual enough to be interesting for them Go too far in the wrong direction and you have a failure So how does a YA writer do it balancing all those issues while still writing a good book?Damned if I know I've never managed to write a decent book for adults much less young onesFortunately there are plenty of talented writers who can write for young people and one of those is William SleatorA YA writer who specializes in science fiction Sleator has written his fair share of strange fantastic and sometimes disturbing books Of all the ones I've read this book is probably the one that creeped me out the mostThe setup for this story is simple Five sixteen year old orphans two boys three girls are put into a giant room with no visible walls ceiling or floor The only structures in this room are stairs and landings Nothing else except for a small machine with flashing lights and odd sounds that dispenses foodThat's itThe five characters are very different and very interesting First we have Peter a scared boy uncertain of his surroundings in the best of times and utterly overwhelmed by being dropped into this bizarre place He's afraid of everything and everybody and finds solace only his the strange trances he drops into in which he is with an old orphanage roommate Jasper feeling safe and protected As an interesting aside it wasn't until I was much older that I figured out Peter's sexuality It wasn't that thinly veiled either I really don't handle subtlety well I thinkLola is not a showgirl Sorry had to put that in Lola is a tough street smart girl who has no tolerance for stupidity or cruelty She's had to learn a lot in her time and doesn't look to others to decide what she should or should not doBlossom is a fat little girl who is the first to figure out how to use the food dispenser in a rage at it she sticks out her tongue and out pops a food pellet but on this later She is cunning and devious much sharper than people would give her credit for being If anyone is truly dangerous in this crowd it is herAbagail is a mousy girl pretty in her own way but with very little in the way of self confidence She tends to latch on to other people and uestion her own thoughts and actions She does have compassion however though not the means to make her compassion a realityFinally Oliver is the other boy of the group and he is all that Peter is not He is strong and confident and good looking For a while Peter thinks that Oliver is his old friend Jasper and subseuently Peter is devoted to Oliver A certain power stucture evolves when it is discovered that of all the people only Oliver can bring Peter out of his trances Oliver has power and he is not afraid to use itThese five kids are trapped in this house of stairs None of them know why they're there they only know that they are They soon discover that the food dispensing machine will only give them food under certain conditions In the beginning they are forced to repeat a series of actions and movements that evolve into a kind of dance hoping to get food from the machineFrom there it gets only worse They soon discover that the dance isn't enough The infighting that comes naturally becomes essential to their survival for only when they are cruel or greedy will the machine start flashing its lights and entice them to dance The uestion then becomes whether or not the kids will do as the machine wishes and how long they can hold out against it Or if they willThis book is disturbing to say the least It levels some pretty harsh accusations about human nature not just regarding the kids in the house of stairs but also regarding the people who put them there The kids are there for a reason and not a good one The whole setup which is thoroughly if somewhat clunkily explained at the end is about conditioning and changing people's personality through stimuli and reinforcement to make them behave as desired Because it demonstrates people young people in particular behaving in a manner that displays the truth of their nature this book has often been compared to Lord of the Flies and rightly so In its way it's even disturbing than Lord of the Flies at least the kids in that book had been left to their own devices as terrible as they were In this book the horrors that these five teens go through are part of a deliberate state sanctioned experiment in human conditioning a kind of horrible Pavlovian Breakfast Club Such is the nature of that experiment that the two children who resisted the conditioning were actually regarded as failures Upon reflection the people pulling the strings are far frightening and disturbing than these poor manipulated childrenIf nothing else the lesson to be learned from this story is simple be a human being There are some things that are too important to sacrifice for something as simple and petty as food and acceptance We must never allow ourselves to be beasts We have to be human This has relevance today when we are debating the ethics of torture is it a necessary evil that we must tolerate if our society is to survive or is it an offense against our humanity? If we allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking that an evil act is somehow the right thing to do then we have lost a very important part of ourselvesOf course it's also about science but the message here is less dire we must not allow science to lose its humanity In this book a strange future with a monolithic state government science is entirely utilitarian with no moral ualms about putting minors through psychological torture The good news is that at least as of this writing science errs on the side of ethics Modern science certainly has its moral gray areas but the majority of scientists out there would never consent to run an experiment such as this I hopeThe last line in the book is one of the frightening ones in literature right up there with the last line in 1984 It's a blunt reminder of everything that has happened in the book and a pointed summation of everything that Sleator has been trying to say that humans have a base nature that we can be manipulated and we will given the right circumstances allow others to shape who we are His message to his readers teenagers like the ones in this book is to refuse to submit to such control Good advice for them and for us

  • Paperback
  • 176 pages
  • House of Stairs
  • William Sleator
  • English
  • 15 August 2016
  • 9780140345803

About the Author: William Sleator

William Warner Sleator III was born in Havre de Grace Maryland on February 13 1945 and moved to St Louis MO when he was three He graduated from University City High School in 1963 from Harvard in 1967 with BAs in music and English For than thirty years William Sleator thrilled readers with his inventive books His House of Stairs was named one of the best novels of the twentieth cent


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