Wednesday, June 22, 2016

RIP Lois Duncan

     Last week Wednesday, June 15, 2016 an important literary figure died. Her name was Lois Duncan, and she was important in my life. Writers are often asked who are the people that influenced them, and no self-respecting writer can remember all those inspiring titles or even the authors that penned them. Unfortunately, it is often when such an influential writer dies that the living, whether they also became writers or went into other professions, that we suddenly remember what such a personage did for us.

     Let me give a scenario, despite others' ideas about me, I was a poor student while in grade school. Often sickly, I would miss enough days that would put me behind certain subjects. Therefore, from 6th grade to 10th grade (with at least two summers I did well enough), I was in summer school. In 1986, I had to attend summer school (sequentially) for the first time. Because it was a private school tied in with a religious denomination, this it did not offer a summer school program, and therefore, I had to attend a middle school near the elementary school where my mom taught.

     This particular middle school was in a rough neighborhood and had some rough children. I understood the work because it was not sixth-grade but actually 4-5th level. I also did not dress as my classmates did. This wasn't my neighborhood. I didn't speak like them. My parents made sure I always had $2. My classmates hated me for this. I was bullied every day. Eventually, our class went on the prerequisite trip to the school library. I was in heaven. At this time, maybe others have noticed this, but, a lot of YA (Young Adult) novel front covers often had photographs with models posing a scene from the story, or, realistic paintings. Mostly, though, I noticed they used real people.

     Paperbacks were often on spinning racks then and the school libraries were no exception. One particular cover struck me with its blonde teen girl, sitting in an armchair with her whole body curled in it. Her unnerving stare at the reader and a ghostly image of a little girl in blue floating behind her.
     This looks really cool! I thought and immediately rushed to the check-out desk. I received snide remarks and under-the-breath "nerd" comments, but I didn't care.
I began to read the novel "A Gift of Magic" and was sucked in by Duncan's use of flashback, memory, and especially how her protagonist, a teenage girl with psychic abilities navigated her life. Often interested in the supernatural growing up, psychic phenomenon has often fascinated me. I credit "A Gift of Magic" for my first time reading about psychic powers. And though I have since digested other stories dealing with this subject, and perhaps, have dealt with it better, Duncan's "A Gift of Magic" was sincere, non-condescending, and a good read during a difficult moment in my childhood that I can't recommend it enough.

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