Well, I’m continuing my Lois Duncan bent by reading through the books that I don’t remember very well first. All I could remember from this one was basically what it says on the front cover… two boys go camping and they never come home.
To be honest, I can see why (comparatively speaking) this book didn’t stick in my memory as much as the others. It’s not as…. what’s the word I’m looking for… relatable? No, that’s not it. I think maybe the word is just interesting. It’s not as interesting as all the others. BUT (and this is a big but) that’s not to say it’s not interesting. I promise you, it is interesting.
With her teen thrillers Duncan likes to look at families and relationships and see how they hold up under pressure. Where do the cracks show? What makes a person strong or weak? Where can a young person find the courage and resources to handle unimaginable situations? They Never Came Home is no different.
Joan is living in teenaged bliss. She has a loving family and a handsome boyfriend that adores her. In the fall they will go off to college together and have the amazing lives they’ve always dreamed of. When her boyfriend (Dan) and her brother (Larry) don’t return home from their camping trip things start to fall apart. Joan becomes the new head of the house, caring for her mother’s crumbling nerves and keeping her father stress free so as not to put strain on his heart condition.
When a strange man calls her house claiming that Larry owed him a lot of money, Joan takes the responsibility upon herself and confides in Dan’s younger brother Frank. Together they try to protect Joan’s crumbling family and get the money to pay back the mysterious Mr. Brown.
As always the pacing is brilliant. Duncan steps your through the story bit by bit, revealing just the right amount of plot and uncovering little by little just the right amount of character. This would make a great daytime movie. That sounds like a bad thing but really it’s not. I don’t think there’s enough action to be a blockbuster but I do think it would transfer very well to film.
The thing I love most about Lois Duncan’s young adult books as that they tackle mature themes without the need for smut or violence or foul language. These days even books aimed at young teens have people falling into bed with each other or detailed descriptions of dismembered limbs. I think all that does is cloud and pollute the mind and takes away from important themes that run through books, themes worthy of serious thought.
As I read through this book I thought to myself, what is the glue that holds families together? Why does a tragedy strike two families, one it pulls apart, the other pulls together? What is grief? Where does it end and become something more akin to selfishness? A heart-tingling love scene or edge-of-your-seat violence would have pulled away attention from those themes. It would have been a good read, sure, but it wouldn’t have had any real value.
So, in summary, no I don’t think this particular book is as interesting as most of her other young adult novels BUT it’s a high standard and it’s still pretty brilliant. Re-readable, pass-onable, gripping, throught-provoking and as always impeccable writing.